Written by JMW Solicitors LLP
As technology continues to evolve, social media has become an increasingly prevalent feature within the workplace. Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have become useful tools for both employees and employers for networking, recruitment, and business development purposes. Whilst social media can have a positive impact upon businesses, it also poses a potential risk to employers where their professional reputation may be brought into disrepute as a result of an employee’s actions online, or even by the Company’s own handling of issues arising from social media use.
In light of recent controversy sparked by the BBC’s public handling of politically motivated tweets posted by Gary Lineker back in March, the situation has given rise to important considerations for employers relating to social media in the workplace.
The football pundit was suspended by the BBC pending investigation following tweets that he had posted online relating to the UK Government’s new policy on immigration. The BBC claimed that Lineker was purportedly in breach of their Guidelines on Impartiality, as well as their ‘Guidance on Individual Use of Social Media’. The organisation subsequently found itself in a very difficult position due to the backlash they received from the public and increased media attention. This was further exacerbated by the announcement that Lineker’s colleagues made to boycott their professional duties as a sign of solidarity. Shortly after, he was reinstated again by the BBC.
The circumstances have served to highlight the importance for employers to consider the value of maintaining positive workplace relations by having robust policies in place to mitigate the risks posed by things such as social media, as well as ensuring that investigations are dealt with fairly and effectively where breaches do arise.
Considerations for Implementing an Effective Policy
Whilst social media policies may not always be the forefront of an employer’s agenda, the importance of having effective provisions in place should not be underestimated. Not only can it allow employers to establish guidelines and manage their relationship with employees, but it also allows for non-compliance to be identified and dealt with much more effectively. As such, there are several important factors that employers should consider when looking to implement effective social media policies:
Whilst there may be a challenge for employers to draw a line between professional and personal use in relation to social media, an effective policy should aim
to establish clear guidelines in relation to what is, and what is not, deemed to be acceptable use of social media by employees. In particular, this may relate to highlighting examples of good practice, such as etiquette, maintaining confidentiality, responding to security breaches, and ensuring that accounts are kept secure.
Furthermore, the policy should also set out clearly the consequences for any non-compliance with its requirements. Where an employer feels as though there has been a breach of its rules, a fair and objective investigation and disciplinary procedure should be followed when addressing the matter, and any sanctions that are applied should be proportionate to the breach that has been committed.
A dispute arose in relation to Gary Lineker’s circumstances that, as he was an independent contractor for the BBC, that the policies he was alleged to have breached did therefore not apply to him. Employers should therefore be mindful of the scope of any policy that they wish to implement in order to ensure that all applicable employees fall within its remit. Not only should the scope of the policy be clearly defined, but it should be wide enough to ensure that all intended individuals are included within purview of the policy in order to avoid difficulties where breaches may arise.
As social media is a constantly evolving phenomenon, it is imperative for employers to be aware that any policies that they put in place will need to be reviewed regularly and maintained to ensure that it is kept up to date and is compatible with any major updates that may take place.
Social media policies are indicative of the constantly changing nature of workplace practices and can be a beneficial tool for employers. Due to the fact that social media has become such a prevalent feature of our everyday lives, it is important for employers to be aware of the potential difficulties that can arise for organisations as a result of social media use. In order to maintain positive workplace relations and protect professional reputation, it is therefore essential to ensure that effective policies are put in place to manage and minimise the risk posed by social media use and, further, to adequately manage any breaches to avoid disputes which may potentially land them in difficult situations.