Managing social media use in the workplace

Written by
Neil Atkinson

19 Oct 2015

19 Oct 2015 • by Neil Atkinson

Your organisations reputation

Every second, some 6,000 tweets are posted, and more than 800m people use Facebook every day. So, how do you make sure that the messages being sent out by your employees aren’t adversely affecting your business’ reputation?

It would be nice to think that your employees would not behave in a way outside work which could impact on the reputation of your brand, and that they wouldn’t post any message which could harm your company.

But, social media has blurred the boundaries between home life and work life, meaning something your staff post, even outside working hours, could have a detrimental effect.

A clear, written policy

The importance of having a clear, written policy that you share with employees cannot be stressed enough. It could be that you include the policy as part of your disciplinary procedures, but you may prefer to have an entirely separate policy, especially if your organisation does a lot of work on social media.

That way, you can take swift, and robust, action if needed.

There have been a number of cases of employees being dismissed as a result of their behaviour on social media. In the first instance of the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) looking at a dismissal as a result of Twitter, a Game Retail manager was dismissed for gross misconduct after sending a series of “offensive” tweets from his personal account aimed at a wide range of groups.

He sued for unfair dismissal, and won, but an appeal by Game was upheld because the manager had failed to restrict access to his tweets by means of privacy settings, meaning they were publicly visible to all.

It’s one of the latest in a series of high-profile dismissals involving social media. In one instance, a JD Wetherspoon manager was dismissed after posting offensive Facebook comments about customers.

In a more extreme case, a motorist who tweeted that he had knocked over a cyclist but could not stop because he was late for his job at a stockbrokers, was sacked. The most shocking example involved a paramedic in Russia who took ‘selfies’ with dying patients and posted them on Instagram.

Clearly, in some of these instances, a gross misconduct dismissal would be appropriate, but having a social media policy in place can help an employer to protect against liability for the actions of its workers along with helping managers to effectively manage performance.

What your policy should cover

Most organisations will find it impossible to implement a complete ban on using social media at work and nor would they want to, given the benefits of the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for promoting products and services. But if employees are also allowed an amount of personal usage time during working hours, this should be set out.

Any social media policy should include details about acceptable behaviour and the use of social networking sites. Employers need to make it clear what online conduct is considered to be unacceptable, whether comments are being made on behalf of the company, or personally, along with setting out what will happen in the event of expected standards being breached.

It’s also a good idea to link your social media policy with existing policies, such as any you have on bullying. There have been instances where employees have been subject to disciplinary action because of comments they have posted about colleagues online.

By making sure you have a thorough social media policy in place, your employees will know exactly what is acceptable, and what is not, and you will help to prevent your business from suffering reputational damage.