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Managing the use of social media in the workplace

The renowned BBC Match of the Day presenter, Gary Lineker, was recently temporarily removed from his role on the show due to a Tweet he posted in response to the Government’s recent immigration policy. The comment which was posted on his personal social media account was alleged by the BBC to have breached their “Impartiality Guidelines” and their “Guidance on the Individual Use of Social Media”. However, commentators have argued that the BBC’s current policies in relation to the use of social media may not be clear and the chief executive of the regulator Ofcom, Melanie Dawes, told MPs that the BBC must review their current guidelines and ensure that they are “right in a world of increasing use of social media”. Furthermore, Lineker is a freelancer, meaning he is not employed by the BBC and therefore the BBC’s ability to apply their policy rules to him as a freelance broadcast is limited. This situation has subsequently highlighted to employers the importance of having clear and effective guidance in respect of their employees’ use of social media that is applicable to everyone that works within a business, even where they may not be an employee, and is enforceable when necessary.

In this article we will consider how a company policy can be used to manage use of social media and what it should include, the consequences of its breach and how confidentiality clauses can be used to minimise the risks associated with improper use of social media.

Social media policy – what to include?

It is vital that your social media policy defines what is acceptable, taking into account the nature of your business and your attitude to personal use of social media. A well-drafted policy will contain clauses which limits the employee from posting social media communications which could damage the business interests, or reputation. Whatever the size of your business, it is important to have a social media policy in place which is clear and adequate to inform employees of their obligations when posting on social media platforms. The guidelines set out in a social media policy can set the parameters for what is expected from employees when representing the company online in a business capacity as well as a personal one: whilst you may prefer to prohibit an employee from expressing opinions on behalf of the business altogether, you must consider employees who are expected or even encouraged to use social media as part of their role, for example employees working in marketing or recruitment. You should also consider whether the policy will apply to those engaged by the business who are not employees, such as consultants, self-employed contractors or agency workers as they have capacity to damage the business by inappropriate use of social media.

Breach of the policy

The company policy should make clear that the misuse of social media may result in disciplinary action. It allows an employer to investigate any irresponsible social media posts that are posted online by an employee with the obligation for them to co-operate with the company. This again highlights the need for a clear social media policy in place, so that it can limit inappropriate posts by an employee online. A policy which clearly sets out the consequences of any breach will set expectations for staff and ultimately will encourage compliance with its rules.

However, employers should be mindful when starting investigations and disciplinary proceedings that in certain circumstances, a social media post by an employee that breaches the social media policy can constitute a protected disclosure online by ‘blowing the whistle’.

It is also worth noting that if you are intending to review your social media policy or have one implemented into the employee handbook, you may be inclined to also have the disciplinary policy updated to deal with breaches of the social media policy. With this in mind, you should ensure that staff, especially those in supervising positions, are trained on the company’s social media guidelines and the appropriate use of social media.

Managing the use of social media in the workplace – checklist

  • Adopt or review a workplace social media policy Checkbox checked" Icon - Download for free – Iconduck
  • Train staff Checkbox checked" Icon - Download for free – Iconduck
  • Take action against any breach of the policy Checkbox checked" Icon - Download for free – Iconduck

If you would like to discuss any of the above matters or require any assistance with the implementation of appropriate policies, please contact one of our Employment experts on 0161 832 3434.