HR & Management

How to handle social media as an employer

5 min read

31 March 2015

When you run a business, you’d like to think that how your employees behave outside of work doesn’t affect the reputation of your brand. Nowadays though, with the advent of social media and the way it impacts on almost everything from home life right through to work, you need to make sure that your staff can’t harm your business with the things they share.

How to combat social media misconduct

There are some clear ways to combat the issue of social media misconduct in the workplace.

First of all, it is definitely worth having a clear written policy you can share with employees about how you expect them to behave on social media. It’s certainly something I’d suggest implementing. This allows you to alert staff to what is expected, and where there’s potential for them to cast a bad light on your company.

This policy could be included in your disciplinary policy, but you may wish to create an entirely separate policy depending on your business. Especially if you work in an organisation that does a lot on social media. 

Having a policy like this enables you to act swiftly in extreme cases, such as the story of Rayhan Qadar, the stockbroker in Bristol who soon found himself dismissed from Hargreaves Lansdown for tweeting: “Think I just hit a cyclist. But I’m late for work so had to drive off lol”. 

The firm acted within 24 hours to remove him from his position, as a result of their social media policy. 

Obviously there are extreme cases where gross misconduct could be a reason for dismissal – such as the recent example from Russia where a paramedic was caught having shared selfies with dying patients. Almost certainly something that should be an undisputed reason for firing an employee!

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The fine line between personal and private on social media

However, the line can sometimes be blurred, and the courts have given little clarification so far on how employers should treat something that could be seen as personal.  For example, a recent case – Game Retail Ltd. vs. Laws – saw one former employee claim unfair dismissal, despite numerous offensive tweets from his account. 

Although it was his personal account, it was found that he had made no attempt to make his comments private, and he knew that he was exposing his comments to 65 of the company’s stores which followed him – one employee of which brought the complaint which saw him dismissed.

Perhaps the most damning aspect of the case was that the former employee had in fact been responsible for monitoring the stores’ Twitter activity!

There are other ways that social media can blur the line between personal and work life. Some sectors, such as hair and beauty, embrace the personal touch of social media for example. It’s a great way to attract new clients and show off work, but there are drawbacks.

Employers would need to be careful that employees aren’t just advertising their skills to try and find a new job or to have access to your customer details if they decide to start up in competition. Also, defining who it is a good idea to make ‘friends’ with is key; the implications could be rather unexpected, as customers may not expect to see pictures of their hairdresser’s boozy night out. But then the benefits of being able to communicate with customers is another factor.

So when you employ someone, it’s worth considering how they use social media, and what you can do to minimise any impact on your business should they do something unexpected! Without any clear guidance as yet in law, it’s left to you as an employer to minimise the uncertainty as to what is and isn’t acceptable as much as you can.

Kirsty Senior is co-founder of citrusHR.

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