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An employer's guide to social media in the workplace

With the expansion of social media such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc., throughout the world, it is prudent for employers to address its use within the workplace. Social media may have many advantages, enabling organisations to promote themselves to a wider audience. However, improper use of social media can potentially be damaging and an employer may wish to put in a policy providing guidelines on appropriate social media use.

The risks to an employer of inappropriate use of the social media by its employees include the following:

  • Employees making derogatory comments about the company and/or its customers/suppliers or other employees;
  • Employees disclosing confidential information; and
  • Employees using social media to make discriminatory comments and/or bully or harass other employees.

This is in addition to the risk of time spent by the employee accessing social media networks when they should be working. Further to this, whilst not amounting to discrimination, bullying or harassment, often petty disputes can arise within the workplace due to comments made by employees which are viewed by colleagues. This can be time consuming for an organisation trying to placate its employees.

When looking at introducing a policy, consideration needs to be given to what the employer is looking to achieve and the culture of the organisation. For example, in some jobs and industries it may be more appropriate to allow the use of social media in the workplace, if it fits with the culture of the organisation and the nature of the business. For other organisations, it may not be necessary for employees to have a need to access social media as part of their job and should only be done in an employee’s own time.

Even if an organisation does not think it appropriate to allow employees to access social media during the working day, it must decide whether it will allow employees to access social media using company equipment outside of core working hours or prevent it totally. Whether or not social media is allowed in the workplace, it would be prudent for an employer to make clear what social media use is unacceptable and that this applies even when an employee is accessing social media outside of work and on their own equipment. For example, an employer could state that it would never be acceptable to disclose confidential information or to make discriminatory or derogatory remarks about any other employee, customer, supplier, etc.

Finally, the policy should tie in with an organisation’s existing procedures such as the Disciplinary procedure, Harassment and Bullying procedure, etc.

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