Solicitors Tips for Employers on WhatsApp in the Workplace

Use of the mobile phone application WhatsApp has become more and more relevant, largely replacing texting as one of the most popular forms of communication.

But what role does WhatsApp play in the workplace? Undoubtedly, it may have some benefits. More specifically, it may allow employees to interact more freely by setting up work groups whilst sending links and images to one another with relative ease.

On the downside, however, many employers may be concerned about the potential risks posed by WhatsApp.

David Hession, an Associate Employment Law Solicitor, explains some tips for UK employers who are worried about their employees using the app.

WhatsApp at Work

Like text messaging, WhatsApp allows employees to message each other discreetly, often without employers being aware. This can cause problems where employees complain, or even raise grievances about bullying, harassment or degrading treatment on WhatsApp.

This raises all sorts of issues for employers. For instance, some of the problematic questions employers could be faced with are:

Do they commence disciplinary proceedings against employees who have conducted themselves inappropriately on WhatsApp?

Does the private nature of WhatsApp conversations mean that employers are powerless to act?

Is there anything an employer can do to prevent or restrict their employees from using WhatsApp inappropriately?

Can an Employer Prevent the Use of WhatsApp in the Workplace?

The likelihood is that thousands of WhatsApp or text messages are sent every day without employers being aware. It is often difficult for employers to police their employees during working time, let alone outside of working hours.

Any measures seeking to prevent employees from communicating with each other through WhatsApp are likely to be seen as overbearing, or even oppressive. This could have a damaging effect on workplace relations.

An employer's best option for dealing with the dangers of WhatsApp is to have a sensible policy in place. This is a useful way of setting out some guidelines.

Employers could even set out in the policy that any employees who engage in abusive or discriminatory conduct towards colleagues on WhatsApp could face disciplinary action. This could tie into any existing social media policy that an employer has in place.

Can Employers take Disciplinary Action for Inappropriate WhatsApp Conduct?

If an employee is approached about the inappropriate use of WhatsApp, then there are a couple of points they are likely to raise. Firstly, they may argue that any offending comments took place outside of working hours and are therefore outside the course of employment.

Secondly, WhatsApp differs from other forms of social media such as Facebook or Twitter in that comments cannot be seen publicly. Instead, they can only be viewed by individuals who are part of a particular WhatsApp group.

Of course, each individual case will differ. Employers are likely to have a strong case for taking disciplinary action where employees specifically set up work related WhatsApp groups designed to abuse or belittle other employees. Employers may wish to take robust action in these circumstances, such as issuing a final warning or even dismissing the employee.

What Practical Steps can be Taken to Prevent WhatsApp Misconduct?

Having a sensible and balanced policy in relation to WhatsApp and group text messaging is one way that employers can try to manage this issue. A policy could include examples of what is considered acceptable behaviour. As mentioned above, this could tie in with existing social media policy.

It would be naive to suggest that employers can actually stop or possibly even limit this type of conduct. However, with a policy in place, employers can often act with a firmer hand when it comes to taking disciplinary action. Employers may also consider sending warning notices to employees where any inappropriate behaviour comes to light.

Got Issues with Your Employees using WhatsApp at Work?

If you suspect your employees are utilising WhatsApp while at work and are worried that this may lead to employees bullying or discriminating against each other, then contact Simpson Millar. Our experienced Employment Solicitors can talk you through your options.

This information was originally published on our website on 28/03/2018.

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