We are regularly asked to advise on issues arising as a result of employees’ use of social media and instant messaging services. This month’s article outlines some of the key considerations that employers should be thinking about.
In thinking about your approach to social media use you need to consider (1) employees’ use of the organisation’s social media platforms and (2) employees’ use of their own personal social media platforms and the impact this can have in the workplace. Taking each of these in turn:-
Use of organisation’s social media platforms
Your employees may be posting on your organisation’s social media platforms for a variety of reasons – for instance to advertise job vacancies, post interesting content or market your products or services.
Only employees who require access to the organisation’s social media platforms for their work should have access to the passwords and these should not be shared with anyone who does not require access. Employers should ensure that employees are clear on what the organisation’s social media channels are to be used for and that the content posted must reflect the ethos and values of the organisation. Clearly any content of an offensive or discriminatory nature posted by an employee through the organisation’s social media account will be a serious disciplinary matter.
Employees’ use of personal social media platforms
Most of the issues that we are asked to advise on are to do with employees’ use of personal social media and instant messaging platforms (such as Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp). Often an employee’s reaction to being challenged about their use of social media is to say that their account is “private”. It is helpful if the organisation’s social media policy spells out that, even if profiles are set to “private”, posts can still be viewed by the employee’s contacts and so anything that relates to work can be dealt with as a work issue even if it was posted on a private account. You may also wish to consider whether or not to permit employees to display their place of work on their social media accounts.
Employees should be made aware that any content that they post online should be free from discrimination or harassment. In particular, if colleagues are involved in, for instance, a WhatsApp group of work colleagues, they need to be made aware of the need to treat colleagues and speak about them with the same dignity and respect in that forum as they would in person in the workplace.
Employees should be made aware that any content that discriminates against or harasses a colleague or otherwise reflects poorly on the reputation of the organisation may be dealt with in accordance with the organisation’s disciplinary procedure.
In addition, employees should be given guidance regarding how (if at all) to interact with anyone from outside the organisation who makes comments of a negative nature about the organisation. Often people will use social media as a way of expressing a grievance or ill-feeling about an organisation and it is important that employees are given guidance regarding how to respond if they see someone posting about the organisation on social media. Often a well-meaning employee coming to the defence of the organisation can make matters worse or sometimes an employee will carelessly “like” a post that is negative about the organisation and that also reflects poorly on the employer that one of its own employees is seen to be endorsing a negative comment.
Our advice would be that employers should instruct employees that if they see any comment that appears to relate negatively to the organisation or anyone associated with it, they should not engage in any way with the comment and instead immediately inform their manager.
Employers asking employees to use personal social media platforms
Sometimes employers will want employees to make use of their personal social media platforms to support the work of the employer. While it is fine to ask employees to “like” or “share” posts from the organisation in an effort to spread the message more widely, employers cannot insist on employees using their social media channels for this purpose.
Similarly, while WhatsApp groups can be very useful for keeping in touch with employees in relation to work-related matters (particularly around rotas and arranging cover for shifts), again an employer should not insist that an employee is involved in such a group. Employees should not be required to be involved in messaging groups regarding work outside of working hours.
This article is intended as a guide and is for information purposes only. It is not a substitute for taking legal advice. For advice on this or anything else to do with employment law, please get in touch with us.