Do you allow social media in your workplace, and if so, what rules do you have? Or do you have an outright ban? We advise on the risks and how to strike the right balance for you and your employees.
Recent statistics from myjobgroup.co.uk estimate that more than half of the UK workforce spends at least 30 minutes a day on social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter. The cost to UK employers is estimated to be 14 billion pounds a year in lost work time from employees.
As well as lost productivity, social networking sites give rise to other risks too. A company has very little control over postings that are made on the sites until after the event, by which time the company’s reputation may have already suffered. They also create a forum for an aggrieved employee to make negative comments about their employer. We have certainly noticed an increase in employers providing us with Facebook printouts showing employees openly making derogatory comments about their employer. Additionally, any statements made by an employee could leave a company open to discrimination, harassment and victimisation claims.
Of course, the majority of employees use social media without causing these sorts of issues. And social networking sites can be beneficial to an employer; such sites may facilitate promotion of business and create business opportunities through external networking. Social networking allows for internal forums which can encourage cohesion amongst the workforce. A company can also keep a watchful eye on its competitors through social networking sites.
So, should a company allow social networking in the workplace? If so, what can a company do to eliminate the associated risks?
First, there is certainly no ‘one size fits all’ approach to social media in the workplace and every employer can develop their own principles. An employer may choose to ban social networking altogether, particularly where the disadvantages outweigh the benefits. Legally, it is perfectly legitimate for an employer to do so. However, such an approach is becoming dated and can create an appearance of being out of touch. Adopting an absolute ban may also make employees feel that they cannot be trusted to use social networking sensibly, and could mean they would prefer to work for a competitor who takes a more relaxed approach.
If an employer opts to allow its employees access to social networking sites, it should have a very clear policy on acceptable use so as to prevent and reduce the ever growing scope of associated problems. You may wish to have a separate social media policy or include guidelines in an existing email, internet, computer usage policy. However the matter is addressed, the policy should aim to strike a balance between maintaining a proper workplace environment and allowing reasonable access to social media.
A carefully drafted policy provides an employer with the opportunity to set clear parameters for use of social media at work and it will act as an employer’s most effective armoury in protecting itself against the associated risks. Such a policy may cover the following:
- Acceptable levels of use
- Monitoring and enforcement
- Protection of confidential information and other intellectual property
- Data protection
- Anti-discrimination and harassment
Disciplinary and grievance procedures may also require adaptation to make reference to use of social media in the workplace. In particular, such procedures should make reference to how they may be relied upon to deal with employees who do not act in accordance with the social media guidelines.
We have prepared social media policies for a number of our clients. If you require any advice in respect of addressing the use of social media in the workplace, or any other employment law issue, then please feel free to contact one of the Pure Employment Law team on 01243 836840 or otherwise email us at [email protected].