Sinead Mohan from the Manchester office of international law firm, Hill Dickinson, highlights the potential risks to employers in light of the recent advancement of social media in the workplace.
With the number of Facebook users worldwide recently topping 1 billion, the use of social media in the workplace has unsurprisingly grown rapidly. Here at Hill Dickinson, we have developed a comprehensive Social Media Toolkit to help protect employers against the issues that can arise from misuse by staff of social media platforms. Below are 10 key things that every employer should be aware of when dealing with the use of social media in the workplace.
1. Implement a Clear Workplace Policy
Ensure that employees are aware of what is prohibited behaviour both inside and outside work covering anything negative about the employer, staff, customers and products. Employers should also outline that the employee will be at risk of disciplinary action in the event of a breach of policy. Common sense guidelines and recommendations are useful (eg “these are my own views and not those of my employer”). The policy should be kept under review and updated accordingly.
2. Train Staff
Training your staff is an effective tool in combating misuse of social media in the workplace. In Crisp v Apple Retail (UK) Limited, Mr Crisp posted derogatory comments on Facebook about his employer, Apple’s products. Apple had given detailed guidelines on protecting its brand, which included exercising caution when posting online. The Employment Tribunal relied on this evidence in finding that the dismissal was fair.
3. Don’t Jump to Conclusions – Investigate thoroughly
In Smith v Trafford Housing Trust, Mr Smith was demoted having posted comments about ‘gay marriages’ on his Facebook account. The primary charge he faced was that he had acted “seriously prejudicial to the reputation of the Trust [employer]”. The High Court disagreed and ruled that the Trust had acted unlawfully. It found that the postings were not “judgemental, disrespectful or liable to cause upset or offence”. It considered that Mr Smith had confined his comments to his circle of friends and was entitled to express his views in that forum.
4. Treat your Staff Consistently
Inconsistent treatment when it comes to taking disciplinary action can lead to loss of morale amongst staff, but could also expose an employer to claims.
5. You Could be Vicariously Liable
Employers can be vicariously liable for any of its employees’ acts, unless they can show they took all reasonable steps to prevent the employee from carrying out the act (Section 109 of the Equality Act 2010). Reasonable steps include implementing relevant policies covering social media (e.g Anti-bullying and Harassment) and training staff.
6. Protecting your Business
LinkedIn is seen as an effective tool to develop business contacts, but, who owns the business contacts stored on an employee’s profile? This is not straightforward where the contacts are saved on an external site such as LinkedIn. Employers should consider specifying to employees that any professional lists created at work belong to the employer, as one way to protect their legitimate business interests.
7. Confidential Information
Employers should also warn employees of the use of divulging confidential information and breaching copyright or intellectual property rights when blogging or tweeting at work.
8. Damages to Company Reputation
The posting of any disparaging or derogatory statements in relation to an employer, client, suppliers, stakeholders or competitors may damage business reputation and give rise to claims of defamation.
9. Be Wary of using Social Media for Recruitment
If you perform due diligence checks in the course of your recruitment processes, then we recommend you act in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998 and also equal opportunities obligations.
10. Criminal Sanctions
The Crown Prosecution Service have recently released interim guidelines for advice in charging for criminal acts relating to use of social media covering “credible threats”, violence to person/property, “specifically target[ing] an individual or individuals”, “breach of Court Order” and “grossly, offensive, indecent, obscene or false” behaviour.
To find out more about Hill Dickinson’s Social Media Toolkit, contact Sinead Mohan on Sinead.Mohan@hilldickinson.com or 0161 817 7269.