In recent times, issues surrounding the use of social media in the workplace have garnered widespread speculations and perceptions. The issue reached new heights when a video posted by a Clifford Chance trainee on YouTube surfaced. The video carried, what many viewers believed to be, jihadist messages. Soon the video created a media storm and bad press. However, Clifford Chance refused to take any disciplinary action against the trainee.
However, the episode raised important questions about the perception of employers when it comes to the monitoring of their employees’ social media profiles. Ultimately, the argument comes down to two opposing assertions:
● Employers must be legally entitled to exert some form of control over their employees’ online presence (through the warning of gross misconduct and possible dismissal);
● Employees, on the other hand, should have an uninhabited right to freedom of speech, irrespective of the repercussions it may have on the reputation of their employer.
This article will highlight five important issues arising from the usage of social media by employees at work and how employers can tackle them.
There are several instances across workplaces in the UK, wherein employees use their social media accounts to post their views of their employer, work or fellow employees. Whilst employers cannot impose bans on their staff having social media accounts, they must make it clear to their workforce that posting comments of an harassing or bullying nature will not be overlooked or tolerated.
Furthermore, you can also categorise such behaviour as gross misconduct and include policy changes that define possible actions against it.
Your policy should state that negative comments which identify you or other employees creating an intimidating or humiliating environment, will be dealt with under the disciplinary procedure. Remember, it is your responsibility as an employer to take actions against an employee who harasses or discriminates against a colleague.
Furthermore, an employer must try to design and apply the same conduct standards in online matters as it would have done for offline issues. Additionally, the employer must consider the nature of the comments made by an employee and the likely impact of the comment on the organisation. This will help employers to design and implement reasonable organisation response mechanisms.
It would also help if the employers provide examples of things, which may be classed as ‘defamation’ and ‘confidential’ in the organisation, and the subsequent penalties that would be imposed on them.
Tweeting and blogging
If you have employees who are representing the company online, you need to set appropriate regulations related to the type of information they may disclose and the range of acceptable opinions they can express. You could use relevant legislation on public interest legislation and copyright to bring it to their attention.
You must remember that when employees get frustrated due to work-related situations, they may manifest their anger on their personal social media account. Subsequently, they may also post comments on their account, that identifies them as employees of your company. Unfavourable comments could end up tarnishing your company’s public reputation. Therefore, you would need to take proactive measures to prevent such a thing from happening.
You can include restrictions either through workplace policies or in the contract of employment, which would disallow employees to post comments or materials, which may have a negative effect on your company. Having a policy in place can also help you take action against any employee for a potential policy breach and counter any subsequent employment tribunal claims.
Additionally, you must include some rules pertaining to the use of social media in recruitment, which employees and managers must follow. When recruiting workforce, employers must be careful whilst assessing applicants through their social networking pages, otherwise, this could be counted as discriminatory and unfair.
Using email at work
Email is an integral part of many organisations across the globe. Therefore, an organisation must have specific rules on how their employees should use their work email. You may choose to monitor the emails and set time limits for deleting emails that are no longer relevant for your business.
Additionally, you may want to impart guidance to your staff on email ethics and ensure that they adhere to the guidelines at all times.
According to research commissioned by ACAS, companies benefit from imparting email management strategies to their employees, which in turn, help them to manage their inboxes effectively.
The study also advised employers to encourage their staff to use the ‘delay send’ function, when sending out-of-hours emails. This will help ensure that the recipients get the email during normal working hours and not during odd hours.
Using social media during working hours
Individuals have access to their friends 24/7 through social media and usually, they can fail to completely switch off from it during office hours. Employers could prohibit their employees from accessing social media on work equipment. Otherwise, your employees could end up spending more time on social media rather than doing work-related tasks.
In the UK, many employers allow their employees the use of work equipment for personal use during breaks, while exercising a ban at other times. In case, employers wish to monitor internet usage, they would need to convey the same, as well as any other monitoring policies, to their employees.