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In a recent survey it was found that some 28% of respondents said their employer did not have a social media policy, while 14% did not know whether or not their employer had one.

Examples of problems which can arise from employees’ use of social media include: 

  • employees spending too much work time on social media sites (in 2009 Portsmouth City Council had to ban Facebook after staff members spent 572 hours on the website in one month, which equated to 71 working days)
  • employees using social media sites to criticise their employer or its products
  • employees posting material online (e.g. video) which embarrasses the employer or brings them into disrepute either directly or by association
  • employees using social media sites to bully, harass or intimidate other employees
  • employees using the Internet to publicise things they disagree with the employer about or to spread dissent among the wider workforce
  • employees breaching confidentiality or giving away trade secrets online an employer may discover misconduct by an employee as a result of what they have posted online (e.g. photos of them on holiday on days they have phoned in sick)
  • where employees are required to use social media for work purposes, what happens when they leave, who owns contacts, content and Twitter tags, for example?
  • where employees seek to breach court orders (such as non contact orders in domestic violence cases)
  • where employees seek to research illegal, violent or sexual material.

Steps an employer can take

    1. Draft (and keep up to date) a social media policy that includes practical guidelines for employees.
    2. Communicate the policy to the whole workforce so that everyone fully understands what is and is not acceptable behaviour and appreciates how their use can lead to workplace issues.
    3. Once you have a policy in place it is vital that this is enforced consistently and managers should be trained in their supervision.  Ensure that updating is at least annually, avoiding letting an issue being the catalyst for action when it is too late (and tribunals do not take too kindly to ineffective policies).
    4. Deploy software that tracks and monitors key words, such as offencive terms in languages that are used at work.

Katy Meevs of law firm Shoosmith recommends that firms allowing staff to use “professional networking or other sites for legitimate work purposes,consider asking them to sign up to special terms regarding confidentiality and post-termination restrictions.”

Law firm Baker McKenzie have published a FREE and handy guide that covers some of the issues, from around the globe (inclduing UK).