November 14

Do you need a social media policy?

The Institute of Employment Studies recently published a paper highlighting the difficulties some employers are having in setting standards of behaviour for the use of social networking tools. The report advises employers to take a common sense stance to regulating behaviour and to draw on norms that might apply in non-virtual settings. In other words, treat ‘electronic behaviour’ as you would treat ‘non-electronic behaviour’.
Why bother setting such standards? Do employers really need to draft yet another policy – a social media policy? The answer is, on the whole, a resounding ‘yes’!
Thanks to Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, your employees are communicating with the outside world on a regular basis. But do you know what they are saying and is it good for your business?
The use and abuse of social media sites has been a hot news topic this past year and only last week the Court ordered nine ‘Tweeters’ to pay a rape victim compensation after they disclosed her identity on Twitter and Facebook. The Tweeters were unaware that this was a criminal offence but the Court held that ignorance of the law was no defence.
There are many similar well publicised examples, all of which increase the pressure on employers to ensure their employees use social media responsibly. The reason being that if employees implicate, directly or indirectly, their employers in tweets, postings, blogs or emails which are potentially criminal or grossly offensive or discriminatory, the employer could be vicariously liable for those acts. The bottom line is that the employer could face legal action if comments made in the company’s name break the law.
It should also be made clear that conduct by an employee on social media that is perceived to be offensive or inappropriate but which was carried out away from the work place in the individual’s private time could also lead to disciplinary action being taken against them.
The starting point is that employers are not obliged to disregard conduct simply because it occurs outside the workplace. There will clearly be a case for disciplinary action if the conduct is not private in nature and where the link to a particular employer is readily identifiable. Examples of this might include inappropriate comments made on LinkedIn (where the name of the employer is clear) or on Facebook, where an individual’s employer may be listed on his profile.
However, where conduct is ostensibly private and comments on social media cannot be obviously linked to the employer, the key question is whether the conduct, once discovered by the employer, has an impact on the employee’s ability to do his job. Employers will, therefore, need to take into account such factors as the nature of the offence committed, the nature and status of the work done by the employee and, in particular, the extent to which the employee’s role requires the employer to place trust in the employee.
Whilst considering the impact of social media, a further issue is the fact that many companies have problems with employees who are continually ‘distracted’ by social communication during the working day. The jury is out on just how much it costs companies when employees use social media sites but an organisation with 100 staff could lose over 16 working hours every day if each person checked texts and Facebook posts for just 10 minutes.
Employers would be well advised to put in place a social media policy which makes clear to employees the approach that their employers will take to conduct in both the professional and private sphere. A social media policy educates employees and sets down the ground rules. A social media policy can give a firm a benchmark so it can enforce the policy. Employers need to set out what is acceptable and what is not acceptable, so that they have a case if someone breaches the policy. It should state that:
• Employees must behave professionally and should not mix personal and business in ways likely to bring the employer into disrepute.
• Employees should not undermine their effectiveness at work.
• Employees should not imply their employer’s endorsement of their personal views.
• Employees should not disclose confidential information obtained through work.

It is surprising how many organisations still don’t have any sort of IT or social media policy particularly given that analysis shows that the peak time for social media traffic is during working hours. A social media policy is a comprehensive set of rules that will help staff remain focused and so drive up productivity – this can be achieved quickly and easily and at very little cost to the business.