“Most gain social media awareness in their personal lives and that is where the danger lurks: the cross over from private lives to business lives.”

Social Media has radically changed all aspects of our lives. Held responsible for divorce, affairs, marriage, bullying, intimidation, social unrest, charity fundraising, social awareness and news sharing, it is a powerful influence in our personal life.

For business, it has radically opened up targeted marketing, free of charge, to all organisations, whether a start-up of one or a multinational. We can now communicate and target those we want to sell to, work with and educate.

Most gain social media awareness in their personal lives and that is where the danger lurks: the cross over from private lives to business lives.

We blogged back in 2015 with Case Law, following a dismissal resulting from inappropriate use of Twitter and further cases have been established relating to the use of Facebook and other social media platforms – British Waterways Board (t/a Scottish Canals) v Smith.

We are now more intelligent about the use of social media. A Social Media Policy is a necessity for anyone employing staff, and employees who have “grown-up” with social media, seem to be slightly more aware of the implications of inappropriate use, yet the crossover with private and public lives still causes employer and employee concern.

The legal aspects are a minefield.

Essentially there are two opposing views in each case:

  1. The employer should have the right to control employees’ online profiles, postings and presence where the employees’ association with the employer impacts on professional reputation
  1. Everyone should have a right to freedom of speech regardless of implications on a third party, i.e. their employer’s reputation

Individuals often try a “disclaimer approach” to protect themselves from any comeback from their employer although in practice there is little evidence that this would protect either party. For example, Twitter profiles are now often seen with a disclaimer statement, which, employees need to understand, will not protect them from dismissal or action from their employer.

What is considered a complex legal issue, often muddled with emotion, can be dealt with appropriately with a simple approach – if undertaken in a professional and informed way.

As an employer:

  • Ensure you have a full, comprehensive and robust “Use of Social Media” policy
  • Ensure the policy is included in Induction and specifically mentioned in contractual terms
  • The policy needs to be transparent, easy to understand and formally acknowledged by all employees.
  • Obtain professional input and be clear about what you are comfortable with your employees doing.
  • Update the policy on a regular basis to respond to Case Law, and changes in social media platforms

As an employee think about:

  • Who you accept as a “friend” or link – do you want your boss or work colleague seeing what you are doing in your personal time?
  • Check your privacy settings
  • Be aware and educate yourself on how social media platforms work – if a friend posts a photo of you at 3 am after a night out and tags you, do you understand who can see that post?
  • If you wouldn’t say it to your boss, colleague, or indeed your Gran, why post it on a social media platform which means it can potentially go viral?
  • How much control do you actually have once you have posted on the “worldwide web”? (Hint – the clue is in the name)
  • Try Googling yourself – It is highly likely that a potential employer will when they receive your application. Do they want the person portrayed in that Google search representing their company?

It is certainly a complex and emotive subject, but whatever your view, the issue is here to stay and needs to be addressed.

If you would like to discuss how these changes may impact on your business or to talk about how we can help you ensure compliance and minimise financial risk. Or of course, feel free to give us a call on 01473 360160. We look forward to speaking with you soon.

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