Social media policies “critical” to workplaces

Whether you like it or not, your employees are using social media at work. The solution isn’t to ban it, but to regulate it.

Regardless of employers encouraging or discouraging it, employees are accessing social media while at work. A 2012 report from SilkRoad Technologies that surveyed 1,105 employees found that 75% of workers access social media from personal devices at least once a day, with 60% accessing multiple times.

As the range, affordability, and popularity of smartphones increases, this is expected to grow. While the usage of social media to connect with clients and colleagues is a definite upside, the inability to control employee behaviour makes the issue a double-edged sword.

Additionally, the findings also uncovered a substantial amount of companies not implementing social media policies, with few offering any social media training.

Reports of increased numbers of bullying via social media affecting the workplace are also commonplace in today’s media.. The nation’s peak union group called for practical jokes, offensive and crude messages over email, SMS or social media to be included as part of a draft code of practice on bullying.

Spencer Hamer, partner at Michelman & Robinson LLP, wrote on Bloomberg Law that social media can also potentially expose an employer to defamation claims if an employee makes false statements about a competitor or co-worker. These inappropriate comments can also be disseminated by competitors.

Confidential and proprietary information can also be disseminated if posted by an employee. Hamer stated that often employees may not be seeking to harm the company, but simply excited about an initiative and mention it in passing on social media, unaware of the consequences that may arise.

Ultimately, sovereignty over social media identities rests on the individual. It is impossible to take control of an employee’s standing online, and employers should simply not attempt this. However, designing and implementing a strong social media policy can alleviate employers of legal ramifications, as well as ensure employees become aware of how their actions affect the company.

Key HR Take-aways

Hamer provided a number of points executives should keep in mind when developing a social media policy:

  • Find out what is and isn’t protected: While Australia differs in regards to freedom of speech to the US, the censoring of employees discussing things like wages and working conditions do not necessarily fall under the employer’s jurisdiction. Before asking employees to agree to not post about something, ensure you can legally stop them.
  • Be specific: Make sure your social media policy is easy to understand and specific. Like all contracts, being too broad or poorly drafted leaves you open to violating employee rights.
  • Ensure disconnection: You may want to ask employees to disclaim that they are not representing your company in their posts, severing a link between employer and employee regarding posts that may be construed as corporate commentary.
  • Stamp out bullying: One of the predominant reasons why a social media policy is necessary is to try and squash workplace bullying. Make sure your policy reflects this.
  • State and federal law compliance: Your policy should make it clear that you do not condone employees engaging in illegal activity online.
  • Comments about the company: Competitors are monitoring your company’s online presence. Ensure all organisational secrets or embargoed information does not slip out due to an excited employee jumping the gun on social media. Remember: once it is there, it is there forever.
  • Content ownership: At the end of the day, employees own the majority of their online content, and you can’t enforce sovereignty over it. Attempting to can be more trouble than it’s worth.
  • Educate and enforce: As with any good policy, it must be monitored and updated regularly. Make sure all employees have access to it and can ask questions if they are unsure, and enforce your policy whenever necessary.

Interested in learning more? HC has previously reported on a number of social media issues, including:

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