Specialist HR advice

Love it or hate it, Social Media is here to stay

Many employers that allow employees to have access to social media see it fraught with danger and choose to prohibit or tightly control access.  Others see it as an opportunity to use their employees to promote their brand and actively encourage them to become online advocates.

Whatever camp you fall into, if you don’t have a specific policy about the use of social media that sets out how you expect employees to behave online, reminds them that access at work (if you give it) is a privilege not a right and sets out what you’ll do if they abuse the company via social media, then you are at risk!

  • If you allow access, you can legally monitor and/or pre-vet employee networking activity and, depending on the importance of commercial confidentiality to your company, it may be prudent to do so (of course, remembering to mention in your employee policy that you will do this).
  • If you are thinking of banning access, particularly if you’ve previously permitted it, you’d be wise to consider whether this is a step too far. Be warned – an outright ban has failed miserably for the few employers that have tried it.  For younger staff, social networks are an essential part of everyday life and the majority have smart phones and tablets that they will use during work-breaks to access social media.  A more enforceable tactic might be to ban any specific mention of the company name, even on personal Facebook pages.

It’s not enough to rely on your employees’ contracts of employment – which may specifically prohibit the disclosure of commercially sensitive information and bringing the employer into disrepute.  Social media requires more specific measures that can be updated regularly without a period of consultation about changing a contract.

  • Issue a clear policy on the use of social media. Differentiate between conduct during working hours and outside of work.  Set out what standards of conduct are expected, so while work-related online activity may be OK, anything that results in damage to colleagues, customers or the standing of the company as a whole won’t.
  • Ask employees to confirm that they have read the policy on social media usage and specifically highlight any points that are of importance to you, for example not attaching the name of their employer to tweets or blogs and not participating in any online conversations about the company.
  • Make clear the possible consequences of a breach of the policy and make sure these are reasonable.
  • If it comes to taking action, make sure you have asked the employee to stop making comments first and, above all, act reasonably in the circumstances.
  • Consider banning the use of the company name on personal Facebook or Twitter pages.
  • Put approval systems in place for updates to professional networking information.
  • As a last (and extreme) resort, and if you’re in a highly commercially sensitive business area, consider an outright ban on all unauthorised use of the web, personal smartphones, digital recording equipment or cameras while at work or on company business.

Contact us to find out how we can help!