Employers have 2.5 hours to deal with negative tweets before the company’s reputation suffers. Emily Eccles advises on protecting your business. When it comes to the world of work, there are many business opportunities around social media – but it can create problems for both employers and company reputations.
Employers tend to have a variety of different responses to the use of social media, depending on the type of company and its strategic importance to the business. One of the dangers of social media lies in the blurring of the line between the employees’ work and personal lives. What may be appropriate in a personal capacity may well not be in a professional capacity. Different social networks present different risks. We will deal here with the main three; Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
There is quite a bit of case law from the use of Facebook where people have been dismissed for derogatory comments made about the business, their employer or other employees which have been judged to cause sufficient harm to the reputation of the business. Failure of employees to use privacy settings correctly exacerbates this as any comments made can be seen by a wider audience and the possibility for damage to arise is therefore increased.
Twitter has similar issues. Many companies let employees post tweets on a company account without an approval system. Once a tweet is in the public domain, its content can spread quickly and a lot of damage can be done when a tweet ‘goes viral’. As well as potential problems with employees posting on a company account, the connections between Twitter accounts (following, etc) mean that posts made on a personal account can often easily be seen by customers of the business.
LinkedIn bills itself as a more professional forum, but that raises other concerns. There may be issues which arise regarding confidentiality of business information and their customer database as it is the business’ customers and contacts which employees ‘connect’ with; who does this belong to if the employee leaves the business? The danger is that the employee moves to another company or sets up a business of their own and utilises those contacts. Employers should impose controls on the use of LinkedIn from the outset. They should ensure that it is clearly contract that contacts and customers of the business remain the property of the employer. What’s more, that any information stored on social media should be returned or destroyed on the employee’s termination. Employers may also choose to include restrictive agreements in an employee’s contract, providing the restrictions are reasonable and don’t go further than to the legitimate interests of the business.
Without a doubt, all employers should have an IT Policy, a Social Media Policy and a ‘Bring Your Own’ Device Policy as a minimum to both help educate their workforce as to what is permissible and also to minimise the risks of using new technologies in the workplace.
These policies should be as comprehensive as possible, detailing the consequences of not abiding by them – particularly with regard to publishing negative comments online. Many people do not understand how damaging negative publicity can be, so there is a need to make it very clear to employees just how seriously a company treats its brand reputation. A risk assessment can also be carried out to avoid a future crisis – businesses should have a recovery plan in place for damage limitation.
Evidence suggests that companies have just 2.5 hours from the time a negative post goes up to deal with it in order to minimise any damage. With that in mind, the importance of regularly monitoring what your employees are saying on social media becomes all the more apparent.
Employment law is developing on a case-by-case basis to adapt to the rise of social media, and employers need to ensure they are on the front foot in this area. This means having the right tools and procedures in place to cope, as well as keeping abreast of the latest developments.
How can Mogers Drewett help?
- We can help by drafting IT, Bring Your Own Device and Social Media Usage policies to reflect the latest updates to the law. It is vital to have policies for these areas, so there is clear guidance for employees in what is permitted.
- We also provide training for Human Resources managers, and we can train your employees in personal social media activities.
- We advise on social media legalities and the developing legal situation. This is a new area of law and new interpretations may be made as cases are brought.
Limiting damage in the event
- We advise clients on problematic social media situations, on a case-by-case basis, as they happen. For instance, what is the best procedure for your company when an employee posts something inappropriate on their Facebook page.
- We assist with disciplinaries and dismissals if required, bringing expert knowledge of the latest cases on social media, so that formal processes are pursued properly.