Social Media – Friend or Foe?

Elizabeth Judson, Ellis Whittam
Elizabeth Judson, Ellis Whittam

Elizabeth Judson, Employment Law Advisor at ACEVO Strategic Partners Ellis Whittam, discusses the importance of social media policies in the workplace:

Did friends and family spend large parts of the festive period seemingly inseparable from their mobile telephones, iPads and the like?  Did you yourself keep a constant vigil as to what was going on in cyber-space?  Like it or loath it, the use of social media is now the mainstay of many people’s lives, and that includes your employees. Despite its wide spread use, many employers are still not aware of the risks that can arise for their organisation. In this article, we are going to consider how best you can protect your organisation.

It is a reasonable expectation for most organisations that employees who are paid to work actually work during their working hours. However, have you considered how much time is wasted whilst employees continually monitor their mobile telephones and check their Facebook pages or twitter feeds? For some organisations it may only be a minor irritant, but for others taking your eye off the matter in hand can lead to costly and sometimes catastrophic results.

If you want to prevent time being frittered away like this and to minimise risks to health and safety and client satisfaction, it is worth making all employees aware that mobile telephones and personal devices should be switched off and used only during breaks.

Other issues that may arise include inappropriate postings about colleagues, the organisation and its service users.  Implementing a Social Media Policy ensures that all staff are made aware of what kind of care they should exercise on such sites. You can make it clear that they must not state who their employer is, and must refrain from making derogatory or offensive remarks either generally or in respect of the organisation and people at work and customers or service users.  Remind them they must not disclose any confidential information, or comment on confidential information, service users, or other inside information.  Careless postings can damage organisations and can, in some circumstances, amount to a safeguarding issue. Even if an employee makes an anonymous comment about a service user on a social media website, this could amount to a safeguarding issue if the employee identifies their employer on that site and/or has colleagues linked to that website, as the colleagues may be able to identify the service user from the information given.  In light of this, spell out clearly the consequences of breaches of the Policy, including potentially treating serious breaches as gross misconduct.

Seek advice when drafting such policies or looking to rely on them, as there have been several cases where dismissals have been held to be unfair because the employer’s policy was not clear enough, did not sufficiently cover the facts in hand or the employer’s response was thought to be disproportionate to the damage suffered.  If inappropriate comments have been made outside of working hours regard still has to be had for an employee’s right to privacy and right to freedom of expression.

In summary, here are some suggested New Year Resolutions:

  • Clearly set out the rules regarding social media both in and outside work;
  • Clarify the consequences of any breach;
  • Confirm the right to monitor employee’s use of emails and internet, including social media sites during working hours on the organisation’s equipment;
  • Conduct a regular review in light of any breaches or changes to the organisation.

For a free initial advice call from Ellis Whittam, ACEVO members please contact 0845 226 8393, ask for the Partnerships Legal Team and quote your ACEVO membership number.

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