NW businesses ignore social media risks

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A survey of 60 businesses in Derry and Donegal has found that 80% have no set ground rules governing social media use in the workplace.

Human resources and employment law experts HR Team carried out the desk survey of small to medium sized businesses in the North West following a recent landmark EU ruling on social media use in the workplace.
Of 60 businesses surveyed, 49 admitted to having no social media rules and regulations contained in their company handbooks and contracts of employment. Of the 11 organisations which reported having existing social media policies in place only two had policies robust enough to offer protection in the event of an employment tribunal.

HR Team Managing Partner Martina McAuley said the figures indicate that many employers have simply ignored or overlooked the importance of having a watertight social media policy.

“Social media use has developed at such pace in the last decade that many employers now find their businesses at risk because they’ve ignored it. Even in organisations where regular social media use is part of the job there are a surprising number of employers who continue to ‘play it by ear’ without setting out a clear policy to govern online activity.

“This can place employers in a very difficult position when dealing with situations such as staff members posting comments harmful to the organisation or when productivity takes a nosedive due personal social media use by employees during working hours.
“Of course the benefits of social media use by employees can far outweigh the risks – but only when employers are fully prepared should things go wrong.

“Employers who allow social media use to go unchecked in the workplace by having no clearly outlined policy are asking for trouble. Employers who pay lip service to it and adopt policies which are not robust are equally at risk,” she added.


HR Team carried out the survey following a recent ruling by the European Court of Human Rights. The ruling upheld a Romanian court decision against an engineer who challenged his employer after being dismissed for sending personal messages to family members on Yahoo chat.
The decision was upheld due to company in question having a robust social media policy which was clearly communicated and understood by the employee.

Ms McAuley added: “It is vitally important that employers have a policy governing social media use which addresses all the key points and in particular the consequences for employees if the policy is not adhered to.

“In the absence of legislation regarding the ever-growing minefield of social media use by employees, tribunals will rely upon two things. Firstly, case law and previous court rulings; and secondly what is agreed within the contract of employment – more specifically the social media policy.”


Jan Cunningham of employment law solicitors Millar McCall Wylie highlighted the importance of a thorough social media policy to organisations facing tribunal.
“Case law both in Northern Ireland and in the UK has demonstrated that it is essential an employer has a policy in place when seeking to take action against employees as a result of issues arising from social media. When balancing the competing rights of an employer against an employee’s right to privacy a clear policy and training on foot of the same can often be the decisive factor in determining whether an employer is successful in the tribunal.”

HR Team and Millar McCall Wylie will host a ‘Managing Social Media in the Workplace’ masterclass for employers and management teams in Derry’s Northern Ireland Science Park on Tuesday, March 15 from 9.30am to 12.15pm. Places are limited, to reserve please contact breda@hrteamservices.com For more information log on to www.hrteamservices.com

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