Since social media became a part of day to day life, the lines are often blurred between home and work life as the need to be connected is ever present in the modern world. Due to this, it’s becoming more common place for work colleagues to communicate via social media using Whatsapp, Yammer and other similar applications rather than sending emails as it provides a more instant experience. When used positively, social media can build a community vibe to a team enabling a swift way to get a response whether that’s wanting to ask a colleagues advice, get a quick instant message to someone when you’re running late or to just communicate a short key message to a group who can then have an ‘online conversation’.
Because social media usage is now ‘second nature’ to many of us, there can be a risk within the workplace for grievances and disciplinary issues to reach your door. Why? Because people simply forget that online comments can still have repercussions; banter going ‘too far’ which could be deemed to be bullying/harassment in nature or demeaning or inappropriate photographs being shared. These issues need to be taken seriously as you would with any other bullying/harassment workplace issue and a thorough investigation should take place immediately upon things being brought to your attention.
The other side of the coin of course is employees who make comments/post things that have the potential to cause real and lasting damage to your business. This is particularly the case where there is a clear link between the employee and the business for example derogatory comments having been made against the business or persons employed by it where the poster’s profile clearly states that they are an employee.
These issues need to be dealt with quickly to minimise any negative impact. Posts have the ability to reach a large audience exceptionally quickly and once out in the ether, the poster or anyone else has little or no control over where that goes and that can be a big problem.
The lines blur a little with posts made outside of the workplace but essentially if individuals haven’t taken steps to apply privacy settings to their social media accounts, they should have no expectation of privacy. The clear message to convey really is that if someone wouldn’t stand in the car park and shout the content of their post to the masses from their soapbox, think again about what you are about to post.
There are now more and more cases going to tribunal relating to social media usage that really demonstrate the need for a robust policy to be in place but also for an employer to really consider the impact and detriment to the business when reaching a decision over appropriate sanction.
In the case of Teggart V Tele tech UK Ltd, the employee posted vulgar comments about a fellow employee on Facebook. The complaint was reported by a third party not by the person who the comments had been made against but the dismissal was deemed fair as it breached the company bullying/harassment policy through social media use.
However in Witham V Club 24 Ltd, derogatory comments were made about a customer on Facebook by Witham but the dismissal was found to be unfair as the comments made were deemed to be relatively ‘minor’ and there was nothing to suggest the client relationship had been harmed.
So do you need to be wearing your social media policing hat and patrolling the cyber world? Definitely not. You should only be acting on issues relating to social media if things are brought to your attention that you need to deal with. That being said, when something is raised to you, you should investigate as soon as possible to mitigate any negative impact on the business or the individual who may have suffered a detriment. You don’t then want a grievance or worse on your hands for not acting swiftly…
So what steps should you be taking for your business?
• First review your policies – are they fit for purpose? Having a social media clause rolled into the IT policy is no longer going to cut it. You need to have a standalone social media policy and this should be cross referenced into company IT, disciplinary, grievance and bullying policies. • Brief all employees on the social media policy being introduced, make sure people understand why (to protect them as well as the business) – Education really is key. • Make sure employees understand about acceptable usage and be clear in your policies what that means and the potential implications of unacceptable usage. There may be individuals who need and are authorised to use social media as part of their day job i.e. sales, marketing etc which is fine so long as they are adhering to the company policy. Be clear who is able to comment on behalf of your business. • Get individuals to sign to say they’ve received the brief and read the policy and include in new starter processes. • Be consistent in how you handle social media related issues. Ensure you take any issues seriously and take steps to thoroughly investigate without delay. If there are screenshots or videos relating to allegations, make sure the investigating officer gathers these and more importantly has actually seen them. • Exercise discretion - Always consider the posts’ impact and whether it has been detrimental to the business/individual before determining a sanction.
If you have a social media issue in your workplace that you don’t know how to handle, or would like your current social media policy reviewing, then we can help. Get in touch with us today at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please note our blog posts contain general information and are intended as guidance only and should not be taken as an authoritative or current interpretation of the law. Please ensure that you obtain advice tailored to your individual situation before taking action. These posts apply to the UK only.