Employees are often permitted to use social media in the workplace. Some employers may allow their employees limited access for personal use.
Other employers may also encourage their employees to use social media to promote the business and share content through communication tools such as Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn. Such business activity may be seen as important in terms of developing the brand and strengthening client base. Could employees though be sending out the wrong messages?
There have been incidents of alleged damage to company reputation/breach of trust and confidence reported in the media. For instance, thirteen Virgin Atlantic cabin crew were dismissed after allegedly criticising the airline’s safety standards and calling its passengers ‘chavs’ on Facebook.
Then there was the sixteen year old who was apparently dismissed for describing her job as ‘boring’ on Facebook, having added her boss as a friend.
In Preece v JD Wetherspoons Plc the employment tribunal upheld the dismissal of an employee who had been dismissed for making inappropriate comments about customers on Facebook.
Although the employee had argued that her privacy settings meant that her comments would only have been seen by between a maximum of 40 to 50 close friends, the tribunal found that the comments were in the public domain and that her employer had acted fairly in dismissing her.
By contrast, in the case of Witham v Club 24 Limited t/a Ventura the tribunal held that an employee who had posted comments on Facebook about her colleagues had been unfairly dismissed. The tribunal had particular regard for the fact that the comments were ‘relatively mild’ and that there had been no evidence that the client relationship had been damaged.
Other forms of misuse or misapplication of social media within the workplace could, too, have serious detrimental effects on the business brand and reputation.
Supposing an employee posts on LinkedIn an interesting news item relevant to their department’s expertise but adds an opinion which is not completely in line with the company’s views? How about mentioning on Facebook information passed on by a client? Or what about if a comment is made on Twitter but it is inaccurate in some respects or a disseminated blog on Google+ contains several spelling mistakes?
An inconsistent approach, a breach of confidentiality, an error or sloppy presentation could all weaken the standing of the business and influence its position in the market place - and more so if this is happening frequently.
Employers would be well advised to have certain measures in place to reduce the risk of harm being caused by their employees. Employers should, for example, have a social media policy in place.
The policy ought to set out: what constitutes improper and inappropriate use of social media; whether personal usage is permitted; whether business usage is permitted; if there is any monitoring by the employer; and the consequences of breaching the policy, with possible disciplinary action including the sanction of dismissal in certain cases.
Employers who do not wish their employers to use social media may choose to block access. Employers who do want to allow some of their employees business use could provide more detailed guidelines on: which employees it would apply to; prior line manager approval if required; training; house-style/uniform practice; and tips.
Matt Gingell is a Partner at law firm Gannons Solicitors which specialises in employment and commercial law.