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Social Media: the good, the bad and the ugly

The huge growth in popularity of social media, including Facebook and Twitter, in recent years, has created many challenges for employers.  Although social media can be used for the benefit of businesses such as an invaluable marketing tool, it doesn’t come without its challenges.

Social media can affect communications between colleagues, as well as affecting the way your company is perceived by people outside, including customers and clients or even prospects. So it’s important that we get it right.

What many people (including employees) forget is the amazing amount of people who see and can get access to their posts – big brother is always watching! It is entirely possible that something an employee does, or posts in their own time, may make its way out into the wide public domain where control of it is lost.  Who knows who it could get into the hands of then; customers, prospects, competitors?  All equally as damaging in their different ways.

Social media blurs the boundaries between an employee’s personal and professional life.

The good side of social media for business use

Let’s start with the good…

There’s no doubt that the development of technology and its use for businesses has made a really positive impact. It can be used as an invaluable and often free marketing tool.

The bad side of social media for business use

There is always a potential for technology, and social media, in particular, to be misused.

For instance, how often are the following disparaging remarks seen on social media?

“Explosion at work today, hilarious.com!”

“didn’t finish work until 6 pm tonight #hatemyjob”

“My boss is an utter idiot!”

Do these types of remarks make an employee unfit for their role? Not necessarily.  But… there can be other implications and risks for the Company.

Of course, it’s never acceptable to make derogatory comments about the Company, its managers or employees.  That is pretty obvious.

The ugly side of social media for business use

However, when you dig a bit deeper you see the raft of problems one comment could bring with it.  For instance, the comment, “My boss is an idiot” could be seen as bullying and/or harassment, which the company has a duty to prevent as far as possible.  It also shows a lack of respect for his line manager which can cast aspersions for the ethos of the business as a whole.

Also, the remark made about the explosion at work could well also amount to a breach of confidentiality if further details are posted.  This often occurs.  One employee posts something pretty generic but the comments underneath build a far more detailed picture.  Also, it could well bring the Company into disrepute and/or damage its reputation.

Because of this, employees need to remember that their behaviour (even if out of work) can have implications for the Company.

A further problem faced by many employers is the use of social media in working time – whether on their own IT equipment and/or on the employees’ own devices.  In our experience, a lot of employees nowadays use social media automatically and don’t understand this is not appropriate for working time when they are supposed to be working.

The importance of having a social media policy

Due to the issues above, it is really important that you have a clear policy on the use of social media by your employees.

There is no law in the UK which specifically governs the use of social media.  Therefore this is left to you to safeguard your business by having the proper policies and procedures in place.  This is where we come in…

There are a number of questions you as a business will need to know the answers to before you embark on your social media policy:

  1. Whether the use of social media sites is permitted at work at all.
  2. If so, when?  For example, you may say break times only.
  3. What is and is not an appropriate use of social media?
  4. What are the consequences for breaking these rules?
  5. How is the use of social media affected by your other policies?  For example, equal opportunities, confidentiality and bullying and harassment.

For us, getting the policy right is so important.

What can you do about it?

Here is when the strength of your policy will be tested and why it is so important to set out the consequences if an employee does something you told them they shouldn’t do in the policy.

Essentially, yes this can amount to misconduct justifying disciplinary action.  It also may lead to dismissal if the comments are sufficiently serious.  However what will back you up greatly is if you have a clear policy setting out clear standards.

Here comes our usual warning – be careful to judge each case on its own facts.

With social media, we have a real blurring of the lines between work-related conduct and an employee’s private conduct.  Our employees do have the right to privacy and freedom of expression. But these rights need to be balanced against each other, which can sometimes be a tricky task.

How can you protect your business?

Tet a robust and clear social media policy in place and it just so happens that we have such a policy on our Document Bank for our clients.  We can also provide the bespoke advice that is so often required in these situations.

Our fixed-cost employment law and HR services will save you money, time and hassle whilst reducing the risks and relieving the stress that accompanies this important area of any business.

Flint Bishop cut through the red-tape that can strangle your business. We give sound commercial advice that will get you and your business where you want to be quicker. Speak to your own dedicated solicitor, have no long contracts and pay a low fixed monthly cost. You can choose what level and type of support you want, when you need it and how you receive it. We provide a menu of products to suit your needs and your budget, making our specialist, solicitor-delivered service, relevant and affordable to any size business

For more information, please contact a member of our Employment & HR team.

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