Dealing with social media in the workplace – block it or give it a cautious thumbs up?

December 12, 2019

‘TIS the season to let your hair down and take those obligatory Christmas party selfies!

But when does harmless festive turn into something which could be hurtful, embarrassing or damaging to a company’s reputation or a member of its staff?

Social media use has grown enormously over recent years, with Facebook the biggest social network worldwide; seeing more than 2.41 billion monthly active users for the second quarter of 2019.

Countless other social media networks such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and WhatsApp are all in regular use with millions of users each month.

Social media is now part of daily life for both employees and employers; and it can be difficult for bosses to know how to handle issues that may arise through social media use.

So what happens if a staff member openly criticises their place of work and / or the boss on Twitter? What can employers do to address that cringe-worthy Facebook image posted by a team member? And how as a manager do you deal with the more sinister side of WhatsApp messages?

Peterborough recruitment firm Anne Corder Recruitment has some advice.

Recruitment partner Karen Dykes said: “The fast pace of today’s developing social media networks means new channels and new methods of communication are emerging all the time.

“The use of social media whilst at work is a subject many employers wish to address. Some employers prevent their employees from using networking sites whilst at work or may wish to monitor staff online activity. However, these rules must be covered in your social networking policy. If these rules are breached, this action would fall within misconduct and can be addressed accordingly.

“Inappropriate comments posted on social media channels by staff members can also be a cause of concern for employers. Where comments amount to defamation, breach of contract (which can range from cyberbullying to harassment and data protection issues), or breach of client confidentiality are potentially damaging to the business’s reputation, employers may take steps to redress, in the same way had the breach been offline.

“The general rule of thumb is, what is unlawful offline is unlawful online and, particularly bearing in mind employers’ vicarious liability for the acts of their employees, HR Heads should ensure control measures are in place to deal with misuse.”

In October this year, a housing officer who used a WhatsApp group he set up among colleagues to comment on another member of staff lost his claim for unfair dismissal.

The member of staff was found to have bullied the woman by commenting on her speech, weight and personal hygiene, and describing her as ‘autistic’.

He was suspended by his bosses when they became aware of the messages in April 2018 and was found guilty of gross misconduct and a tribunal backed the dismissal.

Key points worth considering if you don’t have a social media policy:

– What happens if an employee uses Facebook during work time? Is this acceptable to you or a definite ‘no’. While some personal time might be judged as fine, you do not want it taking over the working day. Why not consider a rule that clarifies ‘acceptable behaviour’ for personal use of both the Internet and emails? This eradicates any grey areas and both parties understand where they stand.

– If you think you can control the situation by monitoring staff emails and their social media networks, think again. There are data protection regulations, not to mention the lack of trust and negative impact this will have on employees.

– Away from work, staff will be using social media. It is worth reminding them about privacy settings and the potential impact of work-related conversation? Many people see work and personal life as separate but social networks do not have boundaries. Check this against your harassment and bullying policy.

– Social media is a virtual conversation, so try to treat this electronic behaviour the same as you would non-electronic behaviour, if an issue does arise.

– Social networking is part and parcel of everyday life and in many businesses it is an important communication tool and has a valuable job to do so trying to keep personal use out of the workplace because of fears it could affect productivity, will be challenging.

Five unwritten social media rules for employees:

Do not post criticisms about your boss or your company online

Do not upload drunken photos

Do not divulge company secrets

Do not devote time on useless online fighting

Do not post anything you don’t want your boss to see