Euan Lawrence Blacks
Blacks Solicitors LLP

Member Article

Blacks Solicitors on social media in the workplace

The internet is a very powerful tool. Social media and networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, as well as digital media sharing sites and blogs including Flickr and Youtube, open up a range of opportunities for employees to interact with and for their firms to market themselves to the masses. However, as is often the case in life, with great power comes great responsibility.

The impact of social media on everyday life in the United Kingdom hits the headlines regularly. Whether it’s an employee claiming constructive dismissal after a dispute on LinkedIn or a premier league footballer’s dalliances being exposed on Twitter, the digital world has never been more omnipresent. It is not surprising therefore that social media is also presenting ever-increasing difficulties for employers as they seek to establish policies and practices to help guide their employees’ digital conduct.

Several high-profile cases have hit the headlines in recent years regarding employees’ misuse of social media. Online misconduct has included:

  • Criticism of the employer by employees
  • Damage to the employer’s reputation
  • Bullying and harassment of employees by their colleagues
  • Discrimination (on the grounds of sex, race, disability etc.)
  • Breach of third party confidentiality obligations
  • Infringement of data protection legislation
  • Loss of productivity

The explosion in the use of social media raises important questions about the boundaries of the employment relationship. Where does an individual’s obligation to his employer end and his private life begin? The boundary is often difficult to identify, particularly as employees work more flexibly, spending less time in a formal working environment where standards of conduct are more readily understood.

The regulatory framework behind the mis-use of social media can appear daunting: a substantial raft of legislation affects social media and, in particular, the rights of an employer to regulate or monitor its staff’s online behaviour. The Data Protection Act 1998, for example, regulates the circumstances in which an employer can gather and process personal data, whilst the Human Rights Act 1998 outlines the rights of individuals to a private life and freedom of expression.

The adoption of workplace policies, therefore, combined with sensible precautions in relation to the gathering, processing, use, storage and disposal of personal data, are highly recommended for companies looking to safeguard themselves from common pitfalls.

A social media policy, either as a stand-alone document or part of an employee handbook, sends a clear signal to employees about a business’ expectations of their online behaviour. If correctly worded, and consistent with other policies such as a disciplinary policy, the document will serve to remind employees that social media activity in the workplace (or relating to the workplace) is not necessarily private.

Staff should be made aware that they can be disciplined for conduct which breaches the policies in place. For example, online activity which can be seen as harmful to the company can amount to misconduct. A ‘think before you post’ attitude should be encouraged with all members of staff.

For more information about social media guidelines and what they should include, contact Euan Lawrence at Blacks on 0113 2279207, follow him on Twitter @EuanLawBlacks or visit www.LawBlacks.com.

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Blacks Solicitors LLP .

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