Nov 17

Watch those Christmas party tweets…..the social media risks in the festive season!!

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As the Christmas party season approaches, many will begin turning their attention to the office party. While some may focus on concerns about the venue and cost-cutting measures, perhaps a more worthy concern is whether we can any longer assume that what happens at the Christmas party will stay at the Christmas party.

With social media and recording devices in most people’s pockets these days, people’s behaviour at a party can now be posted for a global audience in the blink of an eye. An organisation’s reputation can be tarnished and people’s careers damaged by spur-of-the-moment recording and posting of office party activities to the online community through social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Aside from the reputational risk, an employer will also be concerned that information and pictures posted online in the public forum will result in discrimination or bullying claims.

A key issue is how proactive organisations are in terms of setting boundaries for social media use in and around work-related activities. Some of the questions managers need to ask themselves as the festive season approaches are:
1. Does the organisation have policies for the use of social media in the workplace and work situations?
2. Does the organisation have policies for posting work-related comments on social media?
3. Are these policies clearly articulated to the workforce?
4. Has appropriate training and education been associated with the development of these policies?

Say cheese!!
The proliferation of smartphones means that there are an awful lot more party pictures and videos recording exactly what is happening at the Christmas bash – they have a way of taking on a life of their own when posted online.

* Make sure that your policies reflect the fact that employees should not engage in activities, either in or out of work, which might bring the company into disrepute including making derogatory comments or posting inappropriate or drunken pictures on social media sites.

* In addition, policies should clarify that posting negative or inappropriate pictures could constitute discrimination and/or bullying.

* Well before employees get their glad rags on, circulate details of any relevant polices, drawing attention to the fact that these policies apply to what goes on at any Christmas party and afterwards, irrespective of the fact that such gatherings may take place out of the office.

* Recent cases have highlighted the importance of having well drafted and clear policies in place when it comes to justifying a decision to discipline or dismiss an employee for posting inappropriate information or making derogatory comments on social media sites. If employees know what standards are expected of them, and the implications of failing to comply with these standards, then it will be far more difficult for them to bring grievances or claims in response to disciplinary sanctions imposed.

Of course you want employees to enjoy themselves but if you reiterate that workforce expectations on professional conduct still apply, they may think twice about posting that photo of them sat seductively on the boss’s lap.

She said what…?!
The prevalence of smart phones also pose a similar but different problem – gossip. A few glasses of mulled wine could be all that it takes for an employee to spill company secrets or badmouth clients or colleagues during a Christmas event on Twitter or Facebook. Additionally, employees may use social media to gossip about things afterwards.

* Once again, it is crucial that policies are clear about what is expected of employees if employers want to be able to discipline and/or dismiss without facing potential claims, and also protect employees from harassment or discrimination.

* Employers should ensure that employees understand what constitutes confidential information, and the fact that disclosure of such information is prohibited at any time including through social media sites.

* They should also be aware that posting confidential information or negative comments about clients or third parties is also prohibited.

* Policies prohibiting discrimination, harassment or bullying should expressly refer to social media.

Have you seen his Facebook status?!!
Production levels often drop in the weeks leading up to Christmas but what should you do if an employee claims that they are ill but Facebook tells you that they are too hung over to come into work, or are off doing some last minute Christmas shopping? Employers should take care not to jump to conclusions. As with any potential disciplinary matter, a thorough investigation is essential before any disciplinary sanction is imposed. A failure to do so could result in grievances and/or claims.

Employers should also be aware that monitoring employees’ activity on social media without their knowledge could infringe their right to privacy. Employers will need to consider whether this is the case and, if so, be able to justify the interference on the basis that there was a legitimate reason to carry out the monitoring and that it was proportionate.

Too much red tape spoils the party……
There is no reason why your employees should not be able to enjoy the Christmas period without you having to wrap it up in lots of red tape and policies. If you make sure that employees understand their social media obligations, you can still see off the year with a festive bang.

However, managers should be encouraged to lead by example, adopting an appropriate management style both at the party and afterwards. If managers see inappropriate material posted on social media websites and do nothing about it then employees may think that is alright for them to post gossip or unpleasant images.

The combination of age-old celebrations and the new information age can be a dangerous mix. The key point is there is still time to address these issues before the party season gets into full swing!

Not meant to be bah humbug – make sure you all enjoy!!