In principle, managing an employee’s use of social media is the same as managing their real-world behaviour. In practice, however, it can turn into a minefield for employers. The most pragmatic way to deal with this is to set out clear guidance for your employees and, if necessary, enforce it consistently.
The social media paradox
The Human Rights Act 1998 Article 8 gives a ‘right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence’. This protection is not, however, absolute. In the context of employment, there are three important instances in which it may not apply.
- If an employee’s behaviour injures an employer’s reputation
- If an employee breaches confidentiality
- If an employee behaves inappropriately to a colleague
If an employer believes that any of these situations do apply, then it is wise to seek legal advice at an early stage to ensure that any subsequent actions are clearly in compliance with the law.
The Streisand effect
In the first two instances, employers may do well to remember that there is a big difference between “can” and “should”. To put it another way, a court of law may favour the employer, but the court of public opinion may favour the employee. This means that acting, entirely legally, may still end up doing much more harm than good.
In the third situation, an employer’s hands may be tied by their duty of care to their other member(s) of staff. It is, however, still very advisable to be prepared to show why you took the actions you did. Again, your customer base may not necessarily agree with what the law says. You need to make sure that any anger is directed against the law, not you.
Using social media at work
If an employee has to use social media for their job, then they need to be provided with appropriate guidance on what is (and isn’t) expected of them. If an employee does not need to use social media for their job, then the safest course of action is simply to block access to it on company-owned devices and on the company network.
This does not absolve the company of any responsibility for what employee’s post, especially if they do so during work time. It can, however, go a long way towards minimizing the company’s exposure. Employees will have to use their own devices and data and should be advised that they should only post on their own time.
Using social media at home
Each company will need to set its own policies and guidance on this. As a rule of thumb, however, it may be advisable to suggest to employees that they clearly split out “professional” social media (basically LinkedIn) from “social” social media.
It might also be a good idea to give them training on the main social media platforms and show them how to use the more advanced settings effectively. For example, most of the main social media platforms allow people to assign their network to different groups. This allows them to control what group sees what content.
Employees can therefore share “mainstream” content with a broad audience but narrow down who sees more “private” content (if they insist on publishing it).