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Managing Social Media in the Workplace

Social media can provide a unique opportunity to present a positive image of a business into the public domain. Internally, virtual communities can encourage knowledge sharing and externally, social media platforms such as LinkedIn, facilitate networking and business opportunities.

Whilst social media can act as an invaluable tool for business there are associated risks and employers should pay particular care and attention to the following high risk areas:

Lack of productivity: Access to social media on the employer’s equipment in the employer’s time can lead to reduced productivity. In McKinley v Secretary of State for Defence the Employment Tribunal took a common sense view that it was excessive for an employee to spend around 10-15% of his working time surfing the web for personal use. If the employer allows access during work to social media sites, they should be very clear about the parameters.

Bullying and harassing behaviour online: To what extent should employers be alive to online conduct by employees that might amount to harassment of other employees, and what happens if it happens outside of working hours? Such conduct may breach an employers policy on work based bullying and should be treated in the same way as if it occurred in the work place.
The case of Weeks v Everything Everywhere Ltd (2012) confirmed the tribunals position that where an employee posts intimidating comments about a work colleague online the threatening posts can be sufficient to justify a dismissal.

Criticism of the employer: Employers are advised to warn employees to treat comments made on social media sites as public rather than private as the author of any comment has little control over how comments might be shared. If the severity of the comments brings the employer into disrepute, or damages its reputation, employees should be informed that the employer may fairly discipline.

Leak of confidential information: Employees should be reminded that any duty of confidentiality to the company applies to any information shared via social media, whether of not on the employee’s own end user accounts. Employers may also want to state that employees should not hold themselves out as speaking on behalf of the company unless authorised to do so.

What can you do to minimise risk? 

Employers can manage these risks and attempt to limit their vicarious liability on social media acts of their employees by having an appropriate social media policy in place. Not only will this policy act as a first defence for the company but it will instruct employees on how to use social media in a work context.

The policy should remind employees that contrary to popular belief social media activity within or outside of the workplace is not necessarily private and that the employer can discipline employees for conduct in the social media arena. Any policy should clearly remind employees that online conduct harmful to the company can amount to misconduct or in some cases gross misconduct leading to dismissal.

As a brief outline, the policy should include:

  • Information for employees about which social media sites they can access from work and when
  • Details surrounding the duty to keep company information confidential on any social media site
  • Details of any monitoring of the employee’s use of the internet including access to social media sites
  • Prohibitions on making threatening, harassing or disparaging comments about the employer, fellow employees, customers or suppliers of the company and clearly setting out the consequences of these actions.

It is not enough to simply put a social media policy in place. Employers must communicate the policy to staff and supplement it with appropriate training.

Finally as an added layer of protection employers should consider reviewing whether their general liability insurance covers liability arising out of online activities. Where employers are particularly at risk, additional cyber liability insurance may be appropriate.

For further information, please contact Lucy Bailey, solicitor in the employment team at Square One Law LLP on 0843 224 7905.

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