Social Media in the Workplace: Setting Guidelines


The use of social media has exploded and shows no signs of slowing, which means it’s no surprise that more and more employment tribunal claims have some reference to comments or photos posted on-line. The long-standing advice to consider whether you’d want your Grandmother to read your comments holds, but what else can be useful in the workplace to minimize the risk of disputes?

Potential risks

Given the prevalence of social media sites, companies will initially have considered whether to completely block access to all forms of social media sites from their computer equipment. This can help reduce the risks of any accidental disclosures of sensitive confidential information available on their internal system and reduce the time lost to browsing the sites, but many businesses encourage the use of social media sites as they present an opportunity to help raise the profile of their products or services, which makes this approach inappropriate.

Companies also face the risk of being liable for any discriminatory or defamatory content published by an employee “in the course of their employment” and potential damage to their own reputation as a result.

There are also potential risks with routine monitoring of any use of social media sites and a proper assessment of whether such action is proportionate should be undertaken.

Clear policy

Whether there is a complete ban or not, it is important for any business to set out some rules for employees to refer to for their use of social media, usually through a specific policy. This policy should provide some obvious do and don’ts. For example:

  1. Prohibited use: Be clear about the type of communications that are not acceptable (such as discriminatory or offensive comments) and that employees should not express opinions on behalf of the Company unless they have been specifically authorised to do so.
  2. Company contacts: Consider whether you want to try and prevent employees adding contacts met through work to their networks or to include a requirement for such connections to be deleted when they leave the business.
  3. Confidentiality: include a reminder of the type of information that is considered confidential and highlight that this cannot be published in any forum.
  4. Guidelines: it is also useful to include a number of key points for employees to consider when they are making comments on-line, including to be respectful, make it clear the comments are their own personal views (not the Company’s) and to ensure that whatever they say is consistent with the image of themselves they wish to present.
  5. Consequences: Be clear that disciplinary action will be taken in connection with any inappropriate behaviour on-line and highlight that serious incidents could result in dismissal. Highlight the employee will also be asked to remove any offensive content.
  6. Redress: Remind employees that they can report offensive comments to the Company and highlight that they can also use the grievance procedure if they wish to escalate matters.

Be responsive

Alongside working with employees so they understand their obligations, it is important for the Company to respond promptly to complaints, whether these are made from external clients or contacts or from their own employees.

Implementing these guidelines into your workplace can help to minimize the risk of social media related disputes. If you would like more insight into this area please register for our upcoming event at Shaw House here.

If you would like tailored advice to your business do get in touch.

Julie Taylor

Employment Law

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