Clamp down on employee social media activity after hours

by Ben Abbott17 Dec 2014
The after-hours conduct of employees on social media will increasingly be in the spotlight in 2015, as courts end employers increasingly recognise the impact this activity can have on workplace relationships and businesses themselves.
People + Culture Strategies director and workplace law specialist Kathryn Dent said after hours conduct on social media was a standard part of social media policy for sophisticated businesses, but was being increasingly enforced.
Dent said that, to some extent, there had been a reluctance from business to pursue concerns with employees’ after hours social media activity. However, court decisions are changing that, giving new confidence to business.
“You can understand why employers would be reluctant to venture into after hours areas, but with the courts having started to sanction that, employers now have more liberty to actively protect their businesses and their workforce.”
Dent said questionable social media activity after hours can impact relationships in the workplace, or damage businesses themselves directly.
This year’s new anti-bullying jurisdiction has only heightened the awareness of the workplace behavioral implications of social media activity, Dent said.
“The prevalence of workplace bullying can be facilitated by social media, and so I think we might see more bullying claims that are brought with regard to things said in the online world, as opposed to the actual physical workplace.”
A Fair Work Commission decision in Malcolm Pearson v Linfox Australia earlier this year found that an employee’s repeated breaches of a social media policy was not unreasonable grounds for dismissal, with the employee’s freedom of speech concerns raised in the case found not to be relevant to the dismissal.
“Courts are starting to catch up with technology, recognising that social media can be damaging and employers have a right to protect themselves,” Dent said.
“Employees need to be aware that any conduct impacting on employee relations even if after hours can be used in a disciplinary context against an employee.
“The boundaries getting broader; just because you are not physically at work, you are not exempt from complying with a social media policy,” Dent said.
Dent said organisations needed to focus on drafting and implementing social media policies if they did not already have one. Smaller and medium businesses that are less tech-savvy are most at risk of not having a policy, she said.
“There is a necessity for any organisation with employees to have a social media policy, because even if an employee is not using social media for work-related purposes, they may still be commenting in social media circles about their workplace which can have an impact on the business.
“Social media is not going away. I think there may have been a slow uptake with social media policies, due to employers seeing a separation between after hours conduct and the employment relationship. However there is a recognition that these are now one of the more critical policies for an organisation to have.”


  • by Peter Barnes 29/03/2015 3:24:07 PM

    The tragedy of taking such a fear-based position is that it steers organisations away from a positive and expansive engagement with Social Media and into a restrictive one. An engaged workforce that believes in the organisation it works for, is the most powerful voice for the brand (employer brand and customer brand) your CEO could ask for. And HR/legal, rather than turning Social Media Policy into a straightjacket, should be engaging with Marketing to see how this amazing business/brand building tool - the employees in Social Media - can be leveraged expansively in Social Media. Employee Advocacy. Dell has more than 10,000 employees ACTIVELY engaged in social media on behalf of the company worldwide. If your company cannot follow suit....if your company needs restrictive social media policies, what's the reason why? (Excepting industries like Pharma where comms codes demand a super-careful approach to any public comms.) Let's take a more positive position and not allow US based companies who ARE leveraging the power of their employees in Social Media to steal a march on Australian operations whose fear of the risks, close down this avenue.

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