Many employees, at all levels of seniority within workplaces, are not permitted to access any social media sites through their work computers. However, the result of such a policy is often that many (or most) employees then sit around on their smartphones accessing the sites they want to, when they want to. I would imagine such a policy would be extremely costly to administer from an infrastructure perspective - but yet it is totally ineffective.
So why do employers ban social media and is it the right move?
There are a plethora of risks associated with the misuse of social media in the workplace. Even before the employment relationship is formed, a claim for adverse action or discrimination could arise where an HR manager scopes a potential candidate’s social media sites and makes a decision not to hire someone on the basis of their age or political opinion for example. Of course, such a claim could be easily defended where the business could show that a discriminatory factor did not form part of their decision and it had the hard copy recruitment documents to prove it.
But the real risks from social media arise once the employment relationship begins (and you as the employer become vicariously liable for employees’ actions) or when it comes to an end (and there is an aggrieved employee to deal with). There are the complaints of bullying, harassment and/or discrimination between employees and even employees and clients/ suppliers. There are the business and brand risks associated with employee comments about the business or its practices and the risks associated with the leaking of confidential information through social media. And then there are the claims from the aggrieved employees who were fired for their misuse of social media (most commonly in the form of unfair dismissal claims).
Whilst I always remind clients we can’t guarantee that they won’t have any rogue employees, to a large extent, these risks can be mitigated by having a social media policy in place and having good company wide training on both acceptable use of social media and bullying, harassment and discrimination.
Here are some of our top tips for drafting your policy:
- Consider your industry: A PR company’s social media policy will look very different to a professional services firm’s policy.
- Define the application of the policy: The policy should apply to any communications on social media which have the requisite connection to the workplace, which no longer just means communications during work hours, using work facilities.
- Be specific: Your social media policy should clearly define what employees can and cannot do.
- Define consequences for breach: Do employees know their jobs could be at risk?
- Link to other relevant policies: Do you have a bullying and harassment, grievance handling, discrimination, WHS and equipment usage and/or electronic communications policy or a Code of Conduct? These are all inter-related to social media and as such, should be tied into your social media policy.
For all the risks and “evils” associated with social media, there is no denying that social media is playing an ever-increasing role in society in general and when managed well can be advantageous from recruitment, marketing, networking, communication and employee morale perspectives. All businesses need to jump on the bandwagon, armed with the right tools, or risk being left behind.
If your business requires assistance drafting an appropriate social media policy or training employees on acceptable social media use, contact THE WORKPLACE.
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