Social Media In The Workplace – A Guide For Employers
As social media becomes more prevalent, it is crucial employers remind staff about what is and isn’t acceptable online. Here, we give employers insight into company social media policies and how much you can limit what your employees can do online.
Social media has become part of everyday life over the past decade. Figures suggest that there are now 45 million social media users in the UK, which equates to around 66% of the population using online platforms.
Numbers will vary across different age groups, but it is fairly certain that most of your employees will have an online presence of some sort. It has never been more important for employers to understand the impact social media can have and recognise how employees can be seen as an extension of their brand.
Businesses of all sizes are encouraged to have a company policy regarding their employees’ social media use, both at work and at home. The consequences of any potential misuse of social media can have serious implications for an employer’s reputation.
In this guide, we detail everything an employer needs to know about their staff’s social media use. If you have any questions that we have not answered in this guide, feel free to contact us by calling 0800 781 3894 or entering an enquiry form.
What is a Social Media Policy?
A social media policy is an employer code of conduct that provides guidelines for employees who post any type of content online. This can form part of a larger workplace policy, or it could be a completely separate document. Managers should talk any new employee through their social media policy as part of their induction into the business.
The goal of a social media policy is to set out the rules and expectations for appropriate behaviour from your employees when on social media. It applies to both professional and personal profiles.
Within the policy there should be instructions for when an employee should identify themselves as a representative of the business, guidelines around what information can and cannot be shared, and details of disciplinary procedures if the guidelines are not followed.
Does your company need a social media policy?
The first step for your business is determining whether your company needs a social media policy. The simple answer is yes, if you employ people, you do need a social media policy.
Any organisation, of any size, across any sector, should consider creating a social media policy because of the implications online platforms can have on your business.
A watertight social media policy can help businesses in:
- Maintaining brand identity across channels
- Preventing security breaches
- Preventing a PR crisis
- Protecting from any potential employment claims
- Determining employees’ responsibilities
- Encouraging employees to own and amplify your company’s message
Many employees are also often naïve about social media and believe that their posts are only being read by friends and family. Having a policy in which you detail what is acceptable and what is not acceptable allows you to have some framework to fall back onto if there is any misuse by an employee.
What Should Go Into a Corporate Social Media Policy?
There will be a split in relation to how employees use social media. You may, for example, give employees the opportunity to use social media professionally, which will mean you need to provide a framework for how they present their business persona.
Most employees, however, will be using social media for personal use. Every company will have variations in how their policy works, but there are a few key points to always include. These are:
- Employees should be reminded that they are prohibited from sharing confidential and proprietary information online.
- Employees should understand that they are responsible for what they post online and should always be prepared to deal with any consequences that result in inappropriate statements or actions online.
- Employees should include disclaimers to ensure others that their personal account or statements do not represent the company. “Opinions are my own” is a well-used phrase in social media bios.
- When representing the company, employees are to be respectful and polite, and never be discriminatory, offensive or libelous.
- There should be a policy of not using false names or accounts when representing the company.
- Include guidelines surrounding the use of social media when in work hours and when it is prohibited.
- Include guidance for employees who wish to remain off social media (e.g., asking permission to share photos from a staff party).
- Have information on image rights, copyright issues, and other legal constraints that may restrict their social media use or harm their online profile.
- Provide information on disciplinary consequences and procedures.
- Have clear guidelines for where these policies apply – in recruitment and/or marketing, for example
For professional profiles more specifically (mainly found on LinkedIn and Twitter), employers can add details about how their employees’ profiles should be displayed. This includes:
- Adding a professional headshot, perhaps one that has been done internally, so that the branding is similar throughout.
- Creating a username that is easily recognizable, via template. For example, @namePHR
- Keeping brand consistency by using company-designed images and headers for the profile.
- Adding links to the company website.
To What Extent Am I Allowed to Monitor or Control My Staff’s Social Media?
The risks arising from the use (or misuse) of social media builds a strong argument for why employers should monitor their employees’ online presence. However, there are pros and cons to monitoring social media use, and some legal implications to consider too.
- You are protecting the interests of your company
- You are helping to maintain brand reputation
- You can safeguard your employees against online bullying or harassment
- You can monitor employee performance and/or productivity
- You can help ensure compliance with other parts of the workplace policy
- You can manage and investigate any misconduct arising from social media use
- Employees may feel constantly watched
- Employees may feel they have no privacy at work (or at home)
- It signals a lack of trust from management
- Depending on how you monitor your employees, you may be breaking some human rights laws
The Legal Implications
Monitoring the use of social media can create legal issues if business owners are not careful. The first potential pitfall is the Human Rights Act 1998. There are two parts of this act that may be relevant when monitoring employees. These are:
- Article 8 – The right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence
- Article 10 – The right to freedom of expression
There are, however, exemptions to both of these rights which could see employers legally monitor social media posts. In relation to Article 8, it must be a “reasonable expectation” by the employee to have a right to private life.
However, if they make a derogatory comment on a public platform, they cannot expect to be protected by Article 8.
Similarly, in respect to Article 10, monitoring employees’ social media may be permitted where it is necessary for the protection of your company’s reputation and/or the rights of others. Others, in this sense, might include employers, colleagues and customers.
The second potential pitfall is the implied duty of mutual trust and confidence between employee and employer. While a contract of employment will usually set out express terms, implied terms also govern the employment relationship. This implied trust and confidence requires businesses to treat employees with respect and civility, and to always treat employees in a reasonable manner. The monitoring of social media posts may, in certain circumstances, not be deemed reasonable.
Finally, companies still need to conform to data protection regulations when monitoring social media. In recruitment, for example, you must not assume you can view a public profile for your own purposes. There must be legal grounds for processing that data.
What should employers do if they find out a member of staff is a troll?
If you have discovered that one of your employees is an online troll (someone who posts inflammatory, insincere and aggressive messages) you should follow the steps that should be already written in your social media policy. These steps should be:
Investigate the matter
Your first point of call is to investigate further before taking any action. Online accounts are very easily faked, and words can be taken out of context.
Find the evidence of whatever incident has occurred, note the date and times, and screenshot the comments or posts. Keep a record of the incident.
Finally, work out whether this was a one-off incident, or whether the employee is following a trend of online trolling.
The investigation will need to include investigating with the employee concerned. Explain the allegations, show them the screenshots, and ask them whether they accept it was them doing the posting.
The employee may respond in the meeting, but you should also give them some time to respond after the meeting via a written document.
Follow The Disciplinary Process
You should have a disciplinary procedure in your workplace policy and any disciplinary action should be taken in line with the same. Which path you take will depend entirely on a case-by-case basis.
Hopefully, this is a one-off incident and you nip the trolling in the bud. If this is the case, a formal warning may do. If, however, the problem persists, or the initial issue is far more serious, dismissal may be a sanction open to you.
It is important to consult an employment lawyer before you make any decision in relation to dismissals to minimise the risk of any employment tribunal claims being made against your company.
How can Percy Hughes & Roberts help?
As you may have gathered, social media in the workplace can be a legal minefield for employees and employers alike. This is why having a strong social media policy in place across your business is vitally important.
Make sure your employees fully understand their role in the business and how their use of social media can have real-life consequences, even if they think their profile is private. Also only consider monitoring your employees’ social media presence if you have reasonable grounds to do so.
Percy Hughes & Roberts can help businesses navigate any potential social media issues arising within the workplace. Our employment law experts can advise on any potential pitfalls and ensure your business is doing all it can to protect itself from any online problems.
At Percy Hughes & Roberts, our Head of Employment, Sarah Simcott, boasts years of experience and promises a confidential, friendly, and honest approach to all issues within the employment law field, particularly issues involving social media policies.
If you have any questions regarding social media in the workplace and the complexities that come with it, you can get in touch with us for expert advice. Get in touch with our Wirral Employment Law Lawyer today by calling 0800 781 3894 or by completing the “Get in touch” form on this site.
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