Social media is a fantastic tool to generate business awareness and increase personal profile but it also has the potential to be used by competitors, employees and others to create problems within the workplace or damage the business. In 2007, the TUC said “The U.K.’s 3.5 million Facebook users are HR accidents waiting to happen”. Today there are over 24 million Facebook users in the UK not to mention the millions who use Twitter and LinkedIn.
In the workplace, there is a danger that social media may be used to bully and harass work colleagues in and outside of work. An employer may be liable for acts of its employees and therefore a failure to respond to bullying and harassment via social media may expose the employer to a risk of a claim at the employment tribunal.
Social media may also be used to stir bad feeling amongst workers to create a sense of ‘us’ and ‘them’. I had one employer client who had an employee who was inciting other workers not to accept changes within the workplace and was posting comments like ’let’s start the revolution’ on their personal Facebook pages. Clearly this is not conducive to good employee relations. As well as raising issues within the workplace social media can also expose your business to competitors. LinkedIn is a great forum for business contacts but it makes it increasingly difficult for a business to protect its client base. If your salesperson has all your clients as connections then not only can this be seen by your competitors but the salesperson may be able to continue to use these connections long after they have left your employment.
So how do you ensure that social media works for you and not against you?
The starting point is to have a comprehensive Internet and social media policy which clearly sets out an acceptable use and makes it clear that any form of misuse, abuse or bullying, whether in or outside of work, will not be tolerated and will be treated as a disciplinary matter. It should also state who has authority to post information on the company’s social media pages and whether individuals may mention the company on their own personal social media pages.
Employment contracts should also be carefully drafted to protect confidential information and have post-termination restrictions, where appropriate, to protect employees from soliciting and dealing with clients.
Paula Stuart is a Partner in the Employment Department and is available to discuss this or any employment queries you may have on 01908 689345 or by email, firstname.lastname@example.org using reference code EMS02.