Social media use has grown exponentially since 2004 with Facebook having more than 1.44 billion monthly active users, Twitter having more than 316 million monthly active users and LinkedIn having 380 million registered members. There are other social media platforms available but these are the most widely used. Whilst it is by no means ahead of the curve, employment legislation does now include guidance on social media use and the workplace. Martin Bloom, partner and head of employment law at Hegarty LLP gives some advice for employers:-
Many employers are, rightly, anxious of possible issues that may arise from inappropriate comments posted on social media channels by members of staff. If any comments amount to defamation, breach of contract (which can range from cyber bullying to harassment to data protection issues), breach of client confidentiality or are potentially damaging to the business’s reputation, employers may take steps to redress. This includes new posts written by the member of staff and others’ posts shared, commented on or liked.
You may wish to monitor your staff’s online activity and, as long as this is covered in your social networking policy, you are entitled to do so. As part of your social networking and/or internet policy you may prevent employees from using networking sites (and blogs) whilst at work. 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. It is not uncommon to do so, although you should be clear about what is acceptable and expected and, as before, ensure staff are aware it will be monitored. Some employers limit this to suitably trained members of staff only, due to the inherent risks.
In brief, what is unlawful offline is unlawful online and, particularly bearing in mind employers’ vicarious liability, HR Heads should ensure control measures are in place to deal with misuse.
Finally, a note of caution to employers who may wish to use social networking sites to ‘snoop’ on job applicants – this would be very unwise. In a situation where a candidate is not offered the job it could be argued that discrimination came into play and this would be extremely difficult to disprove.
Martin Bloom, Partner, Head of the Employment Department
*Previously printed in the Peterborough Telegraph