Social Media in the Workplace

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The rise of social media over the last decade has been unstoppable – now with more and more avenues in which staff can take part in and share amongst social media outlets employers should be clear on how to approach such issues from a HR perspective. Deana Bates from our Employment Team looks at the options businesses have in managing the use of social media in the workplace as well as potential pitfalls that can face employers and employees.

Social media in the Workplace

Striking a balance

For an employer there is a balance to be struck between maximising the opportunities that social media can bring a business and tackling the prospective issues employers can face as a result of an employee’s use of social media.

Today there is an almost endless list of popular social media platforms, not simply Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. So, how best can an employer keep a tight enough reign on the potential risks, whilst striking the above balance?

Guidance

It is important that clear guidance on the use of social media is dealt with internally in the Company policies. This can be via a stand alone policy or as a section of the handbook.

The social media policy should make it crystal clear to employees what the rules are regarding usage of social media, both in and out of the workplace.

The policy would be tailored to the specific type of business carried out by the Company, as some businesses would benefit from permitting an employee to access social media during working hours, whilst others may have no purpose for this.

It should be made clear whether or not the Company would approve or disprove of employees stating on a personal social media profile that they work for the Company. This could have its benefits for the Company but is not without risks.

It is beneficial to point out to employees what could be deemed as inappropriate and setting out the sanctions of such actions.

The policy should address standards for postings made on Company social media pages, as well as postings made on their personal profiles which could be associated with the Company.

Rights to privacy V protecting the employer’s interests

An employer must remember when drafting a social media policy the employee’s human rights. Namely, the right to respect for a private and family life and the right to freedom of expression.

Employers need to balance these rights with protecting the Company’s reputation, ensuring that the professional image is not tarnished in any way.

Incorrect use of social media could have consequences for both the employee and the employer, this should be made clear in the policy. In some instances an employer could be held vicariously liable for the actions of an employee. Likewise the employee could face disciplinary action for misuse of social media, which could include dismissal.

How far can an employer go?

When taking disciplinary action against an employee in respect of misuse of social media, the employer has a number of factors to consider which include:

  • Is there a sufficient link between the employee and the Company, on the face of the social media platform.
  • Does the employee’s online conduct have a negative effect on their ability to perform their role.
  • Is the level of risk to the Company as a result of the employee’s conduct substantial.
  • Could the employee’s conduct damage the reputation of the Company.
  • Could the employee’s conduct be offensive to fellow employees and our clients/customers.
  • How wide is the remit of the potential audience.
  • Whether the employee has disclosed any confidential information.
  • Has the employer been adversely affected as a result of the employee’s online conduct.

It is important not to take any action which would not be deemed as proportionate to the damage caused.

Practical tips when drafting a social media policy

  • Include a warning to employees that postings on social media platforms should be treated as public not private.
  • Give clear guidance on the monitoring process the employer will carry out to ensure the policy is being adhered to.
  • Point out to employees that a breach of the policy could result in disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal.
  • Provide guidance on the use of social media for business purposes, highlighting the use of confidential information.
As a general rule, we would advise that such policies should be non-contractual, allowing greater flexibility to change or update the policies.

This article should be used for guidance and should not be considered legal advice.


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