​The growing uncertainty of Social Media in the Workplace

​The growing uncertainty of Social Media in the Workplace

The use of technology in our everyday lives has become something unavoidable given the current rate of advancement in this sphere. The changing way in which we not only communicate with each other but also the changing work environment is something employers need to be aware of. There is a need to have policies in place to manage this new relationship with employees. The majority of people engage on a daily basis with hundreds of friends on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Some of these people may be colleagues, friends or even clients. The difficulty is maintaining and promoting a healthy work-life balance for employees whilst also ensuring the employer's integrity and reputation is not damaged in the process. After all, the relationship between the employer and employee is fundamental – if damaged or broken, it could cause all sorts of problems later down the line.

The key relationship factor here is the mutual trust and confidence which is inherent in all employment contracts. If this is broken by either an employer or an employee the relationship itself can be fairly terminated.

How should you be using Social Media as a professional?

This is something most of us do not even consider. The World Wide Web is such a fantastic marketing tool it allows us to access anything at the click of a button and communicate with those across the other side of the world. It gives us access to knowledge that could only be learnt by reading hundreds of books. It is an innovative way to connect with new clients and grow businesses at a rate which the world has never seen before.

Unfortunately, it is also provides people with full freedom of speech. It allows them to share their experiences and voice their opinions without a filter. Whilst in some professions it may be viewed as an extremely positive notion that employees have a strong presence on Social Media (to allow them to be humanised, accessible and publicly involved in activities which they are passionate about) it can also be a dangerous route for an employer.

Social Media allows employees to let others know (the full amount of people who have access to their profiles is dependent on privacy settings) where they work, where they live and even where they are when they post to their Social Media pages. This can catch a lot of employees out. Case law suggests employees have used Social Media to complain about their workplace; bully or harass other employees; search for new jobs; tamper with other employees profiles and even upload photos of themselves out and about when they have called in sick.

There is often a risk that this information may be seen by clients or by other potential employees and have a negative impact on how society views the employer or in fact provide the employer with evidence that the employee has been deceitful. Furthermore, this can easily damage the relationship between the employer and the employee. Case law has suggested that negative posts on Social Media cannot form the sole reason for a dismissal but that posts on Social Media can form part of a disciplinary investigation in the form of evidence.

What can employers do to keep a check on employee's online presence?

ACAS' guidance on Social Media in the workplace gives employers 7 things to consider when dealing with Social Media in the workplace.

  • Develop a Social Media policy – This means an enhancement of any policy in relation to bullying and harassment to include cyber bullying and also a policy on when a Social Media site because linked to your job role (i.e. when an employee links their Social Media pages to their work). It is important that employers are clear on the policies they hold and are willing to enforce them.
  • Have rules for Recruitment – Employers need to be aware that rigid Social Media policies for recruitment may soon become obsolete. All employers need to be aware of the changing way in which Social Media is used for recruitment and be diligent in its checks as it would do normally.
  • Screening job Candidates – Employers need to be careful about using Social Media to assess whether a candidate is suitable for a job role. Any assumptions or decisions made solely on this could be discriminatory or unfair. It is also important to remember that whilst Social Media accounts are reflection of a person's life, they are a distorted reflection that may not be designed by an employee to be a professional reflection but a personal one.
  • Is your profile public? – Employers should always discuss with employees the implications of privacy settings on Social Media accounts. If an employee wants to keep a Social Media profile private and separate from their professional life then they should restrict who has access to their profiles. Furthermore, it is important for employers to monitor and address how employees interact with each other on Social Media accounts to prevent harassment and bullying.
  • Talk to staff – Employers should always be open and honest about whether they are monitoring their staff's Social Media. If there is a problem with any Social Media profiles of employees, they should be contacted to deal with the situation first and other staff should be notified that these problems have occurred. This allows staff to understand their obligations on Social Media and regulate their own image.
  • Update bullying policies – As discussed above, all bullying and harassment policies need to be updated to contain cyber bullying. Employers should have a clear policy on how they deal with cyber bullying and how they monitor cyber bullying in relation to workplace relationships.
  • Be realistic and sensible in your approach – Employers should promote a healthy work-life balance to ensure their employees are happy and motivated to work to the best of their ability. As the 'work/life' line blurs, it is important for employers to be sensible in how they approach any Social Media policy.

The underlying factor throughout is to maintain a good relationship between the employer and the employee. The employer must respect the employee's right to privacy and right to have a life outside of work and the employee must understand the importance of their reflection on the business when interacting with the public and other employees. It is difficult to get the balance right but the above factors should assist employers in achieving this.

If you would like advice in relation to your current Social Media policy or need to have a Social Media policy drafted, please contact us on 01603 693500, email us using 'Make an enquiry' form, or during offices hours use the 'live chat' facility. Appointments available at our Norwich, North Walsham, Brooke and Sheringham offices.

For more information on Employment Law for Businesses please see our Business Employment Law page.

For more information on Employment Law for Individuals please see our Employment Law page.