Social media use by employees is a minefield

The need for clear social media policies applies to all organisations. Picture: PA

The need for clear social media policies applies to all organisations. Picture: PA

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SOCIAL media is a vital communication channel for many of today’s businesses.

When not managed correctly, however, it can have a serious financial and reputational impact on an employer’s business – and could prove legally costly.

Without a policy in place, employees may not be aware of what is and what is not acceptable practice, and employers may struggle to police employees’ misuse of such channels.

Almost two-thirds of businesses we questioned recently allowed staff access to their organisation’s social media channels, yet more than half admitted they did not have a policy in place to protect the business from its misuse. Almost a tenth of organisations allowed all staff access to social media channels without any guidelines in place.

This is alarming, given the instant nature of social media channels which, if misused, can quickly damage both an employer’s and employee’s reputation.

Policies

The need for clear social media policies applies to all organisations. No matter the sector a business operates in, most of its staff will use social media channels daily, either personally or for work.

Employees’ use of personal social media channels adds to the complexity of social media management in the workplace. For example, even where an employee is not acting on behalf of the employer and is accessing their personal social media sites, they will often identify their place of work and, as a result, can still damage their organisation’s reputation. It is essential that an organisation’s policy covers personal use, whether that is on an employee’s own device or work computer.

Recent cases have highlighted that policing social media misuse is a grey area; with some employment tribunals emphasising an employee’s right to privacy, and others more concerned with protecting an employer’s reputation.

Misuse

Social media misuse will not always be grounds for dismissal. However, organisations can protect themselves by having a social media policy that guides employees on what they can and cannot say. There should be no room for ambiguity, as this could end up costing the business financially, as well as damaging its reputation.

• Donald MacKinnon is director of legal services at employment law specialists Law At Work

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