Last week, Danny Baker was sacked by the BBC following a Tweet he posted regarding the royal baby. Instances such as this highlight the importance of employers having in place an effective social media policy and procedures for their employees and the business.
If managed appropriately, social media can be a great marketing tool for a business, promoting its expertise and reputation in conjunction with its employees. However, if not managed appropriately, it can cause internal (and possibly external) communication issues between line managers and employees, and potentially put prospective candidates off.
A huge proportion of the UK population use social media and have some level of online presence. High profile examples of employee use of social media, such as this recent incident involving Danny Baker, re-ignite the debate surrounding the extent to which an employer can take an interest/act on an employee’s activities online.
Having a well drafted workplace social media policy in place can help protect a business’ public perception and provides clarification to employees as to what is (and what is not!) expected of them when using social media.
Creating a workplace social media policy
When drafting a policy, an employer should take into the consideration the conduct it expects of its employees in office/offline situations and then apply this to online use. It should specify what a business deems to be acceptable and unacceptable when using social media in the workplace with a clear distinction between business and personal use.
It should also enable employees to feel protected against being bullied online and make clear to staff the importance of promoting the business’s best interests and protecting its reputation.
A good workplace social media policy will also have regard to the following legislation to ensure legal compliance on the part of the employer:
- The Human Rights Act 1998 (Article 8) – outlines a ‘right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence’.
- The Data Protection Act 2018 and GDPR – these reference how information should be collected and processed by an employer for employees and job applicants.
- The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 – provides guidance on the extent to which a business can use covert surveillance.
Disciplinary processes if the policy is breached
Within the policy it is essential to outline the investigatory and disciplinary procedures if the policy is breached in any way, whether that is suspected to have taken place on the employees’ private or work social media.
The business must then ensure that any outcome from any investigation and disciplinary process are well-documented, providing clear reasons for the decision. As we have seen, instances of serious misconduct (particularly where contrary to established internal policy) may result in dismissal.
With regards to recruitment and job applications, employers should:
- Use social media tools in background checks with caution and only after initial interviews have taken place.
- Prohibit employees involved in recruitment from adding an applicant as a “friend” or otherwise connecting with an applicant via social media to investigate their background, to minimise the risk of data protection breaches
- Verify information obtained through these channels before relying on it.
Employers should consider what they will gain from an internet search and limit their investigation to what is required to achieve that aim. Furthermore, any decision taken about whether or not someone should be appointed to a role based on their out of work social media profile should not discriminate against them on the grounds of any protected characteristic.
- Employers should consider including within the policy the need for employees to have a disclaimer on their social media profiles, such as:
- The opinions shared on this account are my own and not the views of my employer.
- Whilst it might seem obvious to most, ensure that employees know that they must not share any confidential or sensitive material relating to the business (e.g. company or client details) when they send out posts.
How Nelsons Can Help
Melanie Morton is a specialist Employment Law Solicitor at Nelsons.
If you feel your internal systems/social media policy requires updating in light of recent reports then we can review this for you to ensure it is still fit for purpose and best protects your business. If you do not yet have a social media policy in place we can provide one for a fixed fee.