Social media use has grown exponentially over recent years, with Facebook being the most used with more than 2.2 billion monthly active users. In addition to Facebook, countless other social media networks such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and WhatsApp are all in regular use with millions of users each month. Social media is now part of daily life for both employees and employers and it can be difficult for employers to know how to handle issues that may arise through social media use. Katie Bowen Nicholas, Employment Law Solicitor at Hegarty, gives some advice for employers:
The use of social media whilst at work is a subject many employers wish to address. Some employers prevent their employees from using networking sites whilst at work or may wish to monitor staff online activity. However, these rules must be covered in your social networking policy. If these rules are breached, this action would fall within misconduct and can be addressed accordingly.
Conversely, you may wish to encourage your staff to use social media to the benefit of the business. For example, you may encourage employees to engage with your posts by either sharing or commenting on articles that have been posted on your company pages. It is not uncommon to do so, although you should be clear about what is acceptable use and ensure staff are aware it will be monitored. Some employers limit this to suitably trained members of staff only, due to the inherent risks.
Inappropriate comments posted on social media channels by staff members can also be a cause for concern for employers. Where comments amount to defamation, breach of contract (which can range from cyberbullying to harassment and data protection issues), breach of client confidentiality or are potentially damaging to the business’s reputation, employers may take steps to redress, in the same way, had the breach been offline.
Competitors may also attempt to target your employees and offer job opportunities via work related social media platforms such as LinkedIn. Although this cannot be prevented, you may be able to include a post-termination restriction on their work activity such as restricting an employee from working for a competitor for a certain period of time.
To summarise, what is unlawful offline is unlawful online and, particularly bearing in mind employers’ vicarious liability for the acts of their employees, HR Heads should ensure control measures are in place to deal with misuse.