News & Blog

Social media in the workplace - are your policies in place?

  • June 22, 2012

Social media in the workplace is a contentious issue - how much access do you allow employees to have?  Alexander Lloyd's latest breakfast forum with asb law debates the question.

Social media continues to become increasingly pervasive in all elements of our lives, and the workplace is no exception.  It is unsurprising therefore that it has become one of the hot topics of the moment in HR circles, and the question of how much access is safe to allow is hotly debated.  

Our recent breakfast forum in association with our event partners asb law addressed this very issue with local HR colleagues in the South East.  Whilst the degree of access permitted might be debated, universally agreed however, is the need for a social media policy in place that is tailored to your business needs.  

Allow access or ban social media completely?

Whilst some take the approach of banning all social media in the workplace, others either allow total access or limit it to certain departments or specific sites.  The decision taken will be strongly driven by your business itself.  Jane Smith of asb law presented the findings of a recent survey, describing how 75% of respondents confirmed that they permitted all or some staff access to social media sites in the workplace, yet only 55% had a policy in place to cover this usage.

There are inevitable concerns over allowing carte blanche use, a decrease in productivity being a main driver for restriction of use during work hours.  However, guidelines can be established that clearly outline times when use is and isn’t acceptable, and should you have a policy in place and suitable monitoring arrangements this can be enforced.

There are other risks that employers are understandably concerned about, particularly the risk of discriminatory/harassment posts, confidential information breaches and reputational damage.  These risks however are extended beyond the workplace itself and into the employees use out of working hours.  It’s unsurprising therefore that 44% of policies cover use both inside and outside of work, yet concerning that 56% do not.  

What does the case law tell us?

As Rebecca Thornley-Gibson explained, the case law demonstrates how vitally important it is that your policy considers what isn’t acceptable content and covers usage outside the workplace, particularly when viewing the risks of confidential information breaches and reputational damage.  In many cases, whilst a post can be withdrawn, the damage has already been done as the comment is now in the public domain.  Owing to the open nature of social media, control over this content is generally considered to have been lost once it hits the public domain, regardless of the privacy settings of an account.Employees need to be totally clear on what is and what isn’t acceptable under your policy and the consequences for non-conformity.  

Some take the recommended approach of building this training into your induction process and ensuring that a record is kept of when this was delivered to each employee.  Whilst every business needs to look at their own needs and it’s easy to focus on the negative aspects of social media, we shouldn’t lose sight of it’s ability to be a force for good.

You can access the full presentation delivered on 22nd June by asb law here