Snapchat at work: What are the legal issues?

by Miklos Bolza30 Sep 2016
With the popularity of the smartphone app Snapchat amongst millennial workers, HR has been warned that its use can create certain problems in the workplace.
Justine Turnbull, partner of Seyfarth Shaw, told HC that issues with the application stem from how it is designed.
“Snapchat can used for bullying and harassment in the same way that any communication medium can. The complication arises because of its auto-destruct nature which means that unless you take a screenshot, the content disappears,” she said.
Unique among the vast plethora of instant messaging apps, Snapchat is definitely designed for communication in the moment as it allows users to:
  • Send photos or videos which self-destruct after 10 seconds
  • Add photos or videos to a ‘story’ which disappears after 24 hours
  • Chat through messages that are deleted when the user leaves the app
“The impermanence of Snapchat means that it is more likely to be used for inappropriate conduct, compared to other types of social media like Instagram or Facebook where content is more easily captured,” Turnbull said.
If the app is supposedly used for workplace bullying or similar conduct, these claims should be put towards the alleged perpetrator for response, she said. If there is direct proof – for instance a screenshot of the content – this should also be put forward.
Difficulties arise if there is no proof however as this then involved the word of one party versus the word of another.
“The principles of good investigation will apply in the same way as any other workplace investigation so other evidence may also need to be considered, for example, interviews of people who may have witnessed the conduct, directly on snapchat or otherwise.”
Depending on the strength of this evidence, the credit of the alleged victim and the alleged perpetrator may also need to be considered, she said.
To help deal with these risks, Turnbull said that employers should be include aspects of inappropriate workplace use when updating social media policies or conducting training.
“Staff training is about raising awareness of what is and is not considered appropriate and ensuring that employees are aware that respect for others in the workplace is an essential element of workplace conduct.”
It is also important to clarify to staff that conduct between employees off the work site and using apps on personal devices may still be workplace conduct for which the employer is responsible, she told HC.
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