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Ten tips on social networking policies

1. Draft concisely: Clearly set out in the policies the type of conduct that will be considered acceptable  or misconduct/ gross misconduct. If you are setting certain restrictions on usage, then ensure these are communicated clearly; for example, the employee handbook.

2. Make it relevant: Make sure your policy is actually relevant to the usage of the internet or IT by staff. If a particular problem has arisen, then address this matter specifically in the policy to prevent any further incidents.

3. Enforce restrictions: You can dictate when staff may use social networking sites and what is considered reasonable usage. For example, many businesses allow staff to use social networking sites only at lunch time or not at all.

4. Be aware of boundaries: Tempting as it may be, policies should not be too far reaching. An employee’s private life is still protected unless it impacts on the working relationship with their employer.

5. Monitor usage: Reserve the right to monitor staff’s usage of social networking. This is especially important if staff are provided with a laptop or PDAs that they may use privately.

6. Review policies or rules in place: Given the fast-moving pace of technology, it’s even more important that social-networking policies are reviewed regularly and updated to make sure they’re still relevant and enforceable.

7. Take action: Your policy should state that any misconduct will result in disciplinary action being taken. “Misconduct” here means that an employee’s usage of social networking has impacted their ability to undertake their duties or brought the company into disrepute. Make sure you haven’t intruded on their private life or used unreasonable monitoring.

8. Protect your business: You can state that staff must not refer to the company’s name on a social networking website. Many public sector organisations do not allow staff to mention where they work when creating profiles.

9. Remember the usefulness of social networking sites: Some sites such as LinkedIn are useful tools for professionals to create contacts and maintain business relationships. This allows employees to become brand ambassadors. Is it really in your interests to ban access?

10. Make sure staff are aware: Make sure your staff are aware of the policies and procedures applied by the company on social networking. If this isn’t done, it will weaken your ability to potentially take disciplinary action when breaches of the policy occur.  

Vanessa James is head of employment at SA Law

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