Social media – what you can do to protect your businessNovember 10, 2016
Online social tools can be a great method for making and keeping in touch with business contacts, sharing information and updates about topical issues, posting articles, and promoting your brand and services to the wider public.
According to ‘We are Social’, 59% of the UK population are active social media users and the average user spends 1 hour 29 minutes on social media every day!
However, what your staff ‘post’ or ‘tweet’ can cause real problems for businesses.
We are increasingly dealing with situations triggered by a member of staff’s use of social media, including where they have posted comments criticising their employer’s products, workplace and/or made personal comments about management.
Social media and employers
The problem for employers is that social media can be very difficult to police. It is immediate and once a post is out there, it’s really out there. As an employer, you have no control over who sees a post and no immediate control over any replies or ‘shares’.
Workers' private lives usually extend into the workplace and all of us have a reasonable expectation of privacy as well as the right to express ourselves freely. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t take steps to protect your company's reputation.
Tips to protect your business
Our main tips to help prevent staff posting inappropriate comments in the first place and to give you the tools to take disciplinary action if they do, are:
- Adopt a social media policy and communicate what is appropriate use.
- Make staff aware of your expectations – be clear about what employees can or can’t say about work. You may encourage them to promote upcoming events, but not want them to comment on your customers or incidents at work.
- Prohibit employees using social media in ways that could damage your business. Reference this in your staff contracts and disciplinary policy. Be clear what sanctions may follow if employees don’t comply.
- Have a clear policy setting out your right to monitor communications within the workplace. You must carefully consider how and why you are monitoring communications to ensure what you are doing is legal.
- There are currently few reported cases involving dismissal because of something posted on social media, but the cases we do have are clear that the more comprehensive your policies regarding the use of social media are, (both within and outside the workplace), the stronger your position will be when it comes to taking disciplinary action.
It is also worth noting that an allegation that your reputation has been damaged is unlikely to be enough on its own to result in a fair dismissal.
In part, ths is because collecting evidence that your reputation has been or is likely to be damaged is extremely difficult. Further, the decisions of the Tribunal that we do have suggest businesses should not take an unbalanced view of the (potential) damage to their reputation.
But what if an ex-employee posts something inappropriate?
If an employee posts something inappropriate on social media, this is clearly a disciplinary matter. This is where clear and carefully worded policies are worth their weight in gold.
Unfortunately, a lot of inappropriate posts come from disgruntled ex-employees (trust us, these are the worst kind) and you obviously can’t discipline them. Still, it could be that they have (intentionally or unintentionally) made a defamatory statement which could give you an avenue of recourse.
By definition, defamation is a published statement which lowers an individual or business in the estimation of right thinking members of society generally. The potential remedies available include damages and/or obtaining an order to remove the defamatory statement, but this can be costly and take time.
A carefully worded pre-action warning letter from a solicitor threatening action if they don’t take the post down and refrain from making similar posts could also get you the result you want.
Our final thought: Sometimes prevention really is better than cure!
If you require advice on company policies, managing defamation on social media or assistance with another employment law matter please contact the employment team on 0117 929 0451.