Posted on by Jessica Peaty

The Importance of Your Social Media Policy

There have been numerous, much talked about cases where employees have posted comments on social media platforms about their place of work, conduct while in the workplace, and managers in the last couple of years alone. Thinking of it as a personal, social tool can lead employees to broadcast details like this without thinking.

In fact, social media use in particular, has opened up a hotbed of legal debates when it comes to employee conduct. Many managers and business owners simply don’t know where they stand when it comes to this thorny issue. In turn, this can lead to confusion among employees, and easily avoided blunders which can take up valuable HR, and business hours.

Having a good grasp on present issues, and how the law defines them will enable your HR team and team leaders to reduce the time spent on such disputes, while sending a clear message to staff on where they stand on these common pitfalls.

What does the law say?

In a nutshell, there aren’t any specific laws regarding social media cases, and if it comes to trial, ordinary principles of law will be applied.

What does this mean? Essentially, if employees are posting comments that can be considered as gross misconduct on an open social media page, it can be used as evidence. With that in mind, making this understood to all staff is a no-brainer. That way everyone knows where they stand, and HR teams can potentially save themselves costly, time consuming disciplinary procedures.

A quick read of the high profile case of British Waterways vs. David Smith illustrates the need for a solid social media policy perfectly.

Back in 2013 Mr Smith posted disparaging comments about his employer, and managers. Ultimately, such actions were covered as gross misconduct in British Waterway’s social media policy, leading the Employment Appeal Tribunal to rule in favour of the employer.

What if we don’t have a social media policy?

Although this case highlights the advantages of having a defined social media policy, there are plenty more examples of similar disputes, where companies have lost out because there hasn’t been one in place.

The reality is that almost 60% of people in the UK have an active social media account. It is part and parcel of modern life and culture, and many people broadcast opinions, thoughts, or personal news without thinking.

Without a clear set of regulations in place, the reputation of a company can be quickly compromised by an ill-advised post. While employees and managers could find themselves embroiled in murky legal debates without warning.
Forming a policy that makes sense

The most logical place to start when forming a policy is to define personal and professional lives in the context of social media.

This includes guidelines of acceptable usage while in the workplace, but most importantly, clear instruction on what can, and cannot be said about the organisation. In line with this, it should clearly align to existing bullying and harassment rules to safeguard managers and employees.

Thinking about use of email, social media accounts and blogging sites should all form part of the strategy, with specific and clear guidelines on the usage of each.

Putting it into practice

Perhaps the most essential thing to note is that once in place, the policy should be made clear to all employees. Without good lines of communication all the hard work in developing such guidelines may go to waste.

Communicating through the company intranet, or an employee self-service homepage are two simple ways to make staff aware. New starters should be taken through the policy as standard, while keeping an open and honest line of communication with staff at all levels will all help to successfully implement it.

Summary

To put it bluntly, there’s no escaping the reaches of social media in today’s technological world, and it can be used as a powerful tool to positively promote an organisation in the right hands.

Despite this, many employers are still facing difficult cases that cost the company time, money, and jeopardise their reputation due to a lack of understanding, and clear rules around social media usage.

This can be avoided through careful planning. Developing a solid social media policy that takes into account current employment law can safeguard companies from such complications. At the same time, it provides employees with the information they need to make smart decisions when it comes to using social platforms.

Of course, employment law, and technology itself changes all the time. So be dynamic when looking at your social media policy. Review it regularly, and be sure to communicate it loud, and clear.

Sources

Acas, Social media and how to develop a policy
CIPD 10 Social Media Policy & Guidelines Documents

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