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The Business Guide to the Use of Social Media by Employees

Millions of people in the UK use social media sites including Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and LinkedIn regularly.

Smart phone technology makes it easy to post or respond to comments in hardly more time than it takes the user to formulate their thoughts. There have been countless examples of individuals using social media to post embarrassing pictures of themselves and others, make inflammatory remarks, or to moan about their boss/job/customers etc. The problem of course is that unlike sounding off to your mates at the pub, posting comments via social media can create a permanent record and once something has been sent, the writer has no control over who else sees it.

Employees are entitled to a private life and to hold opinions that you may not agree with but there are steps you can take to prevent your staff from damaging your reputation via social media

1. Develop a social media policy

You can discipline, and in serious cases dismiss staff for posting negative comments or images about your company provided you have a policy which spells out what your staff can and cannot say about the business, its customers, or about other people within the organisation.

This can be either incorporated into your employee handbook, or used as a stand-alone policy. An absolute ban on staff befriending customers on Facebook, or referring to the work they do is probably unrealistic.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ but a middle ground might be to require employees who do identify you as their employer (or who are online ‘friends’ with customers who know you to be their employer) to maintain professional standards in their postings.

Staff should be reminded that they must not spread workplace “gossip” or post confidential information about the business itself or its customers.

If you consider that certain online behaviour is so serious, it will constitute gross misconduct you must explain in the social media policy what behaviour will entitle you to dismiss an employee without notice. You should make sure that this is added to any other acts of gross misconduct set out in your disciplinary policy.

It is essential that your staff understand that these restrictions are not limited to comments they make during working hours using company equipment, but apply equally to information posted using their own devices in their own time. This is something that employees often misunderstand.

Businesses who do not have a social media policy will find it more difficult to discipline staff for posting inappropriate comments. To start with you will need to find out how much damage or potential damage has been caused to your business reputation – something you may prefer not to do, as it runs the risk of highlighting to a client, something that they may not be even aware of. Even if you can show that your client might have read or seen the message, you should not take a disproportionate view of the damage that has, or could have been incurred.

2. Train your employees

It is not enough to write a policy. You must make sure that your employees understand the policy and particularly, what is expected of them. Give all members of staff copies of company policies (or tell them how to access these) and provide relevant training.

3. Make sure your managers set the standard

It is no good having a policy unless it is followed by everyone within the organisation, from the top down. There should be no exceptions and managers should lead by example.

4. Prevent harassment and bullying via social media

You may also need to update your equal opportunities/harassment and bullying policies to include cyber bullying. You should ensure that your employees understand that they should not post discriminatory comments about other members of staff, or customers on social networks – even on forums that they consider to be private as this may expose your company to discrimination claims.

5. Social media should not be used to voice workplace disputes

Remind employees that they should not to use social networks to raise grievances. Work related problems should be dealt with under the company’s grievance procedures.

6. Take appropriate action against employees

Act quickly once you become aware of issues. If you believe that an employee has posted inappropriate, damaging or discriminatory remarks online, you should follow your disciplinary procedure and impose a suitable sanction. In most cases a written or final warning should be sufficient for a first offence.

Make sure that the employee understands what will happen if they post any further inappropriate comments (i.e. they will receive a final written warning or may be dismissed).

This will send out a message to your staff that you do treat breaches seriously and will, over time, encourage staff to think carefully before firing off random and ill-considered comments.