Social media in the workplace - a guide for employers

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In the so-called digital age, it would be impossible to deny that social media has had a significant impact on workplaces across almost every industry. While some companies use websites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn as part of their marketing and promotional strategies, those that do not still tend to employ workers who engage with social media on a daily basis.

For this reason, many employers have had to consider the way they are presented on social media, as well as how members of staff conduct themselves on these domains. The ever-increasing trend for widespread social media use on PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones can have a considerable effect on communications among employees of all types, from managers to regular staff and job applicants.

What’s more, from a legal perspective, it can also affect how companies promote, control and protect their reputation, as well as inter-workplace relations. From a legal standpoint, social media plays a significant role in blurring the traditional boundaries between home and work - and this is something that can lead to many issues.

Legal implications

We have seen many high profile cases involving workplace disputes over social media conduct, whether a tribunal has been launched over unfair dismissal, or where an employer has reasonably dismissed a member of staff due to inappropriate comments made on such platforms. However, this aspect of the law remains a slight ‘grey area’ for employers, with many not knowing where to turn if they believe that a worker has overstepped the line.

For this reason, we have created this guide dedicated to helping businesses create a social media policy that employees can easily abide by.

Developing a policy

Every organisation is different, which means each business will have different rules regarding social media use. For instance, some may choose to completely ban personal use of the internet, while others will adopt a more laid back approach, allowing ‘reasonable use’ at the discretion of a line manager. Therefore, setting some guidelines could help employers to avoid any confusion. This could mean allowing social media use during breaks and at lunch time.

When establishing this policy, it’s best to consult a trade union representative, also, due to the rapid changes in this area, be prepared to update this policy regularly.

The key is to ensure that members of staff do not feel oppressed by the rules, while staff and managers feel protected against online bullying, but overall it is important that the business is confident that its reputation will be safeguarded.

Communication is key

Employers need to make it clear to employees when they will be seen as representing the company, and when they are able to convey their personal views. For instance, quite often, some employees are told they cannot express any views about politics. In addition, employers should be clear about defamation, and how it expects members of staff to help protect the company or organisational brand.

On top of this, modern employers should include social media in its discipline policy, ensuring they provide clear examples of what is regarded as misconduct - for example, posting offensive comments on the internet about the company or a colleague. It is also important to consider how social media can be incorporated to a company’s bullying policy.

Remote working guidelines

Remote working opportunities are common in a number of industries, giving employees the opportunity to improve their work/life balance and work from home. However, this freedom makes it particularly difficult for employers to monitor the online behaviour of their employees.

For this reason, it is recommended that line managers are given guidelines on how to deal with this type of issue. Focusing on the end-product - such as whether the employee gets through all their work each month - as opposed to managing time too closely is a common sense approach to remote working management. However, it is important not to forget the basic rules of effective performance management, such as holding regular reviews and maintaining a regular dialogue with staff.

Educating employees

It is important to educate employees about when and where is a suitable time to use social media. These days, many people’s social and private lives revolve around the use of such websites, but it is important to stress that browsing the web does not constitute having a break from computer screens. The Health and Safety Executive offers guidance on the risks of using IT equipment, which all workers should be encouraged to view.

On the whole, different companies are likely to have different standpoints on social media use, both in and out of the workplace. However, all employers should ensure they take this issue very seriously, as without the correct guidelines in place, ill-informed members of staff could put the reputation of the company at risk, and business owners should be prepared.