Nowadays, it seems that everyone is sharing, liking, posting and tweeting every aspect of life. The popularity of social networking sites has created valuable commercial opportunities but they undoubtedly raise a number of issues for employers.
Employers are often left grappling with employees harassing their colleagues on social networking websites, excessively using these platforms during working hours, leaking business information, posting brand-damaging images, criticising their managers or customers…the list goes on and on.
Hitting the headlines
In the last few months alone there have been a few high profile news reports of employees’ abuses of these sites leading to employees being handed their P45.
- In the summer, it was reported that a policeman was posting abusive and derogative tweets about celebrities. The disciplinary panel heard that he sent the tweets from the canteen of the police headquarters in his breaks. He was found guilty of gross misconduct and was subsequently dismissed.
- In September, actor Marc Anwar was dismissed from the cast of Coronation Street after his employers discovered racially offensive comments on Twitter.
What can employers do?
It is estimated that employee’s abuse of the internet and social media costs the economy billions of pounds each year. But what can employers do to prevent this?
You should have a clear and robust social media policy, which clearly sets out guidelines on what is and is not permitted both at work and at home. You should make sure employees have read and understood the policy so they know what is expected from them.
The policy should also set out the consequences of any violation of the policy’s provisions. Serious misuses of social media can amount to gross misconduct and result in the termination of their employment.
It is essential to make reference to all other relevant policies, such as data protection, harassment, bullying, information security and equal opportunities.
Say no to social media at work
Obviously there is an expectation that people will actually work during working time, so it is worth making it clear that the use of social media sites on work equipment or personal devices during work time is not permitted or only at specified times, such as lunch or rest breaks.
On the surface, the odd look on Facebook or Twitter may only seem to distract the employee for a few minutes. However, when you start adding up all those little intervals, you may be very surprised how much time employees spend on social media each month and its impact on an employee’s productivity and quality of work.
You should also confirm that you have the right to check and monitor employees’ use of emails and internet. This includes reviewing how long the employee is spending on the internet and what sites they are looking at.
Block social networking sites on work devices
You may also decide to block access to common social medial sites on all PCs, tablets and other work equipment to prevent employees from using these sites when at work.
Business use means business use
Unless relevant to their job role or for business purposes, you should ban the use of business email addresses for social media reasons, for example to register for a social networking account or to receive updates of any developments that occur on these platforms.
Make employees aware of the effect of their posts
Make sure that employees are aware that any comments they make on social media sites either at home or outside of the workplace can have wider consequences. For example, if the individual’s profiles clearly states that they work for you and they post disparaging or insulting comments and/or images, this may have a damaging effect on the company’s reputation or business relationships.
You should emphasise that any comments, images or videos about their company, managers, colleagues, clients or service users are found to be offensive, discriminatory, defamatory or amounting to harassment or bullying will be subject to disciplinary procedures. These types of comments may amount to gross misconduct and could lead to termination of their employment.
It is also essential that you remind your employees that they must not disclose or comment on any confidential or sensitive information.
Be careful when drafting a social media policy
You should seek legal advice from your Employment Law Adviser about drafting social media policies. Employment Tribunals have made it clear that the policy must be carefully worded for an employer to be able to reply on its provisions.