Staff social media rules bring black and white to grey area

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We wouldn’t expect a newspaper editor to print stories without adhering to checks and balances – why then would employers give free reign to employee posts on social media.
One negative post by a staff member or even the unwitting release of sensitive information can cause untold damage to a business just as defamatory copy can cripple a newspaper. When checks and balances are in place such situations can be easily be avoided.

Internet use has developed at such pace that many employers now find their businesses at risk because they’ve ignored it – particularly in relation to social media platforms. Even in organisations where frequent 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 the activity.
Their inaction means they have no grounds for action in the event of staff members posting comments harmful to the organisation or when productivity takes a nosedive due personal social media use by employees during working hours.


At HR Team we are firm believers that the benefits of social media use by employees can far outweigh the risks – but only with the caveat that employers are fully prepared if things go wrong.
Employers who allow social media use to go unchecked in the workplace by having no clear and robust policy in place are simply asking for trouble.
In a recent survey carried out by HR Team 82% of small to medium-sized businesses had no social media policy in place whatsoever. Of the 18% which did less than one fifth had policies robust enough to protect their organisations in the event of tribunal claims.
When ill-prepared for social media issues in the workplace, employers can be faced with outcomes such as grievances, damaged employee relations, bullying and harassment claims or discrimination/victimisation allegations.
Social media use in the workplace or which involves comments about the workplace, brand, or organisation can be ticking time-bombs when not governed by a robust set of standards which are clearly communicated to (and understood by) all employees.


Employment law governing employee social media use is a grey area mostly because it’s such a fast growing phenomenon. That‘s all the more reason why employers should ensure their in-house policy is black and white.
Once in place it’s important that employers regularly review their policy to avoid risk as the law is continually playing catch up with the ever changing technology of social media.
In the absence of social media legislation, employment tribunals rely upon two things when making rulings: case law and previous rulings; and agreements made via contracts of employment or more specifically, the social media policy.


That’s not to say employers should make any assumptions on court precedents when dealing with social media issues. A recent high profile case saw the European Court of Human Rights uphold a Romanian court ruling against an engineer who challenged his employer after being dismissed for sending personal messages to family members on Yahoo chat.
It may seem fair to some employers to assume from reading such headlines that they can take action against staff who misuse social media in the workplace. To do so would be a very costly mistake.
When we look behind the international headlines of that story we soon discover that the employer in question acted on the basis that its very robust social media policy had been breached by the employee. The strict social media policy had not only been established but careful steps had been taken to ensure it had been communicated clearly to – and was understood clearly by – the employee.
It is vitally important that employers have a robust social media policy addressing all the key points and in particular the consequences for employees if the policy is not adhered to.

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