· 2 min read · Features

Managing and controlling social media activity

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Social media can be a useful business tool but has its downsides in the workplace. These sites can not only cause distractions at work but also potentially cause damage to any business’ reputation. However, social media sites are useful for promoting brands, connecting with clients and keeping on top of industry trends.

Employees are working longer hours and want to be able to easily keep in touch with friends and family. Arguably, limited access to social media sites at work will placate employees and lead to a more productive workforce with improved concentration and work output.

Outright ban or full access?

Employers should consider the extent to which they will allow or encourage access to social media and should ensure that employees know what constitutes acceptable conduct. Some employers block access to social media sites entirely but, given the popularity of smart phones, employees can simply access banned sites via their phones whilst at work if they choose. Alternatively, employers can restrict access to social media sites to, for example, before and after business hours and over the lunch period.

Regardless of the extent of access, it is advisable for employers to have a social media policy in place to discourage employees from certain activities and allow them to take action if necessary.

Social media policy

Social media is on the rise and employers are often forced to take disciplinary action against employees as a result of their online conduct. These sites not only offer a wide audience to which an individual can vent their workplace frustrations but can also facilitate bullying between colleagues.

Employers can be held vicariously liable where online bullying is deemed to be "in the course of employment", which is given a wide meaning as the distinction between home and the workplace becomes increasingly blurred. In order to minimise the risk of reputational damage and legal action, businesses should implement a clear and comprehensive social media policy, which should be enforced consistently and kept up to date.

Sanctions for breach of the policy, from disciplinary action up to dismissal, must be made plain. The policy should also be publicised internally and easily accessible. HR induction programmes are a good way to draw attention to company policies and asking staff to acknowledge receipt may improve enforceability.

What should social media policies include?

Areas to cover include:

  • permitted usage of social media at work
  • recommended privacy settings
  • disciplinary procedures for breach of the policy, including clear sanctions for online bullying and harassment
  • examples of what may constitute defamatory comments
  • an explanation of the risks of misusing confidential information, intellectual property and personal data
  • where employees are asked to blog or tweet for business purposes, guidance on appropriate content
  • information on monitoring.

Monitoring

Employers can monitor employee use of the internet on company systems, however, in order to be lawful, an impact assessment must be carried out balancing the needs of the employer with employee privacy rights. Any monitoring must be proportionate and employees must be given certain information about why and how the monitoring is undertaken.

Permitting access to social media sites within the parameters of a policy ensures that businesses do not lose out on the benefits of this technological phenomenon but are protected when employees act without authority.

Rebecca Lawton is an associate at law firm Charles Russell