As a tool used for both marketing and personal communication, understanding the role of social media in the workplace is an important aspect of managing business operations and company culture.

How can social media impact businesses?

Even if you do not intend to use social media for your marketing, most businesses recognise that they need a digital presence. This may include having a business page on social platforms.

It is likely some employees will be active on social media. This provides an opportunity for them to independently build business relationships and spread brand awareness. However, it also provides potential for inadvertent or deliberate reputational damage.

There is also the possibility for negative revelations to emerge regarding employees’ personal lives. For example, an employee on sick leave could post an ill-judged update on a social profile which reveals that they have been lying about being ill.

Unfortunately social media can also be used to facilitate bullying, both in and outside of the workplace.

Employer monitoring social media on desktop PC

Can employers monitor or control what employees post on social media?

Employees have a right to a private life and freedom of expression. However, businesses also have a responsibility to protect their reputation, and hold a duty of care to all employees.

In some circumstances, an organisation could be held responsible for something posted by an employee if it was published ‘whilst acting in the ordinary course of [their] employment’.

Unreasonable or excessive monitoring may potentially breach the implied trust and confidence that exists between an employer and employee. This could lead to a possible claim at tribunal, e.g. for constructive dismissal.

Make your intentions known in advance

You must inform employees if you intend to monitor social media. Be clear why you are doing so, as well as the extent to which you intend to monitor activity.

If monitoring is required as a condition of employment, it must be specified in the contract of employment.

With any form of monitoring, you must be able to demonstrate that it was reasonable, proportionate and ‘relevant to the performance of the job’.

Do not assume that you can collect and process data from a social media profile because it is available publicly. There must be legal grounds for doing so.

Note that covert monitoring of social media is only justified in exceptional situations.

Employer taking a team photo at work

Can employers post about employees online?

You should exercise caution when mentioning staff members, or posting about an event or achievement in which an employee had some involvement.

Posting a photo of an employee on a public platform could be classed as sharing ‘personal data’, which falls within the governance provided by GDPR. The employee’s permission is required, and they should be allowed to withdraw their consent at any time.

A social media policy and guide

It is essential to have a social media policy which sets out guidelines and expectations for use of social media, in respect of their professional and personal profiles.

The policy should include guidance on what can and cannot be shared, as well as the consequences if the guidance is not followed.

It should also make clear how and when an employee should identify themselves online as a representative of the business.

Curbing abuse of social media

A policy on social media should contain a clear zero-tolerance approach to discriminatory or hate-related content, and that which could amount to bullying or harassment.

A procedure should be included which employees can follow if inappropriate content needs to be reported. There should also be a clear process for investigating and dealing with inappropriate content, and potential disciplinary actions should be stated.

Finally, the policy should remind employees not to share confidential and proprietary information online (including photos) and should set out guidance when it comes to use of social media during working hours.

Employee browsing social media at desk

Can employees be disciplined for inappropriate use of social media?

This will depend on the circumstances. In appropriate cases, an employer can resort to disciplinary action, provided they act fairly and reasonably, carry out a full investigation and follow the procedure outlined in the social media policy or contract of employment.

Seeking legal advice on the use of social media at work

The use of social media in the workplace can give rise to some difficult issues, because of the need to:

  • respect privacy and trust
  • adhere to confidentiality and data sharing laws
  • manage the possible consequences of social media misuse

At Springhouse, our team of employment law solicitors can provide their expertise to assist with the aspects of social media use that may impact your business – from creating a usage policy to instigating disciplinary proceedings following a report of inappropriate use.

For an initial discussion about your business’s circumstances, get in touch with the team today.

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