Social media - what's your policy?

Social media is increasingly becoming an issue for employers due to its evergrowing popularity and inclusion in people’s personal and professional lives. Whilst social media is without doubt a valuable tool for businesses, it can also be a headache for even the most seasoned HR professionals.

In this article, we look at why having a social media policy can be helpful for businesses and we provide you with some drafting tips on what social media policies should cover.

So, why should businesses have a social media policy?

  1. To set standards for the workforce

    A social media policy can set out the ground rules for social media in the workplace. It can also make clear to employees what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable behaviour when using social media.

  2. To seek to protect the business’s image and reputation

    Having a social media policy lowers a business’s risk of encountering social media issues in the workplace. Such a policy therefore helps to protect an employer’s brand and identity in the marketplace by outlining what social media usage is permissible.

  3. To deal with disciplinary matters

    Case law has consistently shown that having a well-drafted social media policy is invaluable in disciplinary situations involving social media breaches, not least because it provides a framework for businesses to deal with situations involving social media.

  4. Because employers can be held responsible for employees’ actions

    Businesses have been found to be vicariously liable for the behaviour of employees on social media if they are carried out in the course of employment. Having a social media policy can be beneficial to an employer to protect itself against liability for the unauthorised actions of its employees.

With these reasons in mind, what key provisions should a social media policy include?

  • A broad definition of what constitutes ‘social media’: a social media policy needs to be clear about what is meant by ‘social media’. It is likely to include, as a minimum, Facebook and LinkedIn. However, given the constantly changing social media landscape, defining social media broadly is going to be important. This is so that the policy itself addresses new social media platforms, networking websites and internet blogs being created all the time and it does not become outdated after it is issued to employees.
  • Social media usage in the office: be clear about whether employees are allowed to use social media at work and, if so, under what circumstances and to which social networking websites that extends. It is also a good idea to state how much time each day employees can spend on social media in the office so that there is no ambiguity about what is allowed.
  • What is and what is not acceptable on social media: employers should detail the type of conduct that is prohibited (such as offensive or discriminatory comments or posts on any social media network).
  • Social media activity outside of work: as well as addressing social media usage within the workplace, it is important to make sure that the policy covers employees’ use of social media outside of work in order to mitigate the risk of reputational issues or discrimination claims. Social media policies should clearly state that they continue to apply to the use of social media in employees’ personal capacity, using their own computer equipment and outside of normal working hours.
  • Guidelines for responsible use of social media: employers should instruct employees to make it clear in social media postings, or in their personal profile, that they are speaking on their own behalf. Businesses might also explain that employees should be respectful to others when making any statement on social media and be aware that they are personally responsible for all communications which will be published on the internet for anyone to see.
  • A clear explanation of what happens if an employee breaches the policy: businesses should explain that a breach of the social media policy may result in disciplinary action up to and including dismissal. It is useful to set out the circumstances in which (mis)behaviour will amount to misconduct and gross misconduct and to use this as a guide in disciplinary situations. However, it is important to state that the circumstances included in the policy are not exhaustive and there will be other situations that will arise.
  • A statement on monitoring employee usage of social media: employers should inform employees if they intend to actively monitor staff’s social media postings or usage. It would be helpful to explain that the reason for monitoring is to ensure that the company’s rules on social media are being complied with and for legitimate business purposes.
The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.