employment law

Controlling social media use at work

To what extent are employers allowed to control their employee’s social media use at work?

As an employer, working out a ‘stance’ on social media can help with the many potential potholes that have to be navigated by both employees and employers.

Obviously this stance will vary drastically between businesses based on its sector, use of social media for marketing, and the potential consequence of social media misuse.

Having a social media policy

Having a social media policy is one way of ensuring your stance is set out and communicated to all members of staff, with no room for misinterpretation.

Deciding on the extent of access to be allowed is the first step.

Is blocking access the best idea?

Blocking access to sites may be necessary, but remember that employees will still be able to access these sites from their smartphones or tablet devices.

Indeed, if social media is used by staff to market your company, this approach may not be suitable.

It might be more appropriate to limit access to before and after working hours and during lunch time, or simply stating what counts as acceptable use in your policy. This can then be referred to if required.

Should you log usage?

Another option is to log the usage of such websites so as to avoid an outright ban.

Just by being aware of the logging, employees will no doubt use the sites less for personal use, with it not impacting use for work purposes. This also makes it easy to adjust the policy in future to suit the findings.

Level of sanctions

Alongside this outline of acceptable use must be the associated sanction for misconduct.

The level of sanction must be made plain and it goes without saying that writing the document is no good if no-one reads it. Give copies to every employee, making sure copies are available digitally. Ensure you get a receipt and signature that all policies have been read and understood by each employee.

Your social media policy

As a general rule, the following should be covered in your social media policy:

• The permitted reasons for using social media at work
• The disciplinary sanctions for using it outside of these parameters
• A recommendation (and instructions) for setting appropriate privacy settings
• Clear disciplinary actions for online bullying or harassment
• Guidance and examples of what constitutes inappropriate comments both inside working hours and outside (for example, can you post political comments in a work blog?)
• An explanation of potential impacts of social media misuse for the business (e.g. loss of clients, lowering of reputation)
• An explanation of how employee social media use is to be monitored

The legalities of monitoring

The final point (above) is important for employers to note. Any monitoring must be proportionate to the risk, and employees must be aware that monitoring is taking place.

There are three main legal legislative acts that may impact on your social media policy. They are as follows:

Human Rights Act 1998: This legislation explains that every employee has a ‘right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence’. Whilst this does not refer to social media or other forms of electronic communications directly, case law suggests a reasonable expectation of privacy for each employee is expected and courts will interpret it as such.

Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000: This legislation applies to both public and private communication and limits the extent that an employer can monitor and record communications sent by the employee. However the employer is allowed to monitor communications if they have previously gained consent from the sender and the recipient. If the employer does not have consent, monitoring can only take place if the employer believed there are exceptional circumstances such as to prevent a crime, protect their business and comply with certain regulations.

Data Protection Act 1988: The act doesn’t prevent monitoring but it does state that if such monitoring has an adverse effect on the person being monitored then it has to be justified by the benefits to the employee or others. It also stresses the need for openness and for employees to be aware of the type of monitoring in place.

Section 5 of the Information Commissioner’s Office guide to Employment Practices Code has more detail of monitoring in the workplace.

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If you would like further advice, please contact Daniel Zakis on 0121 705 7571.

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