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Social Media - Clear Guidance Trumps Wishful Thinking

View profile for Natasha Johnston
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Social media is such an integral part of our working lives now that it is hard to remember how we used to function without it.

However, as illustrated by the recent kerfuffle caused by Donald Trump’s sharing of a Britain First video, it is vital to think before you post on social media - particularly when sharing content from another source that you may not be able to verify or vouch for.

From an employer’s point of view, it is vital to set out clear guidance for your employees to follow, bearing in mind that you could leave yourself open to claims of vicarious bullying, harassment or discrimination if shared social media content has the potential to offend any other employee on the grounds of race, sexual orientation, gender, or lifestyle.

Generally it is established that employers can avoid liability for hi-jinx in the workplace if they can show that the employees involved were acting on a “frolic of their own” - doing something utterly unconnected with their work.

But legally there are risks, so I would strongly advise employers to make sure staff are aware of your written company policies on standards of behaviour expected on social media.

There is also the risk of reputational damage to the company - and damage to company’s reputation can have far-reaching consequences which can take years to repair.

There are measures employers should take to safeguard themselves from being held vicariously responsible for harassment or bullying, including cyber bullying – and to safeguard the well-being of their employees, as follows:

  • Put a workplace policy in place. All organisations should establish an anti-bullying and harassment workplace policy setting out the type of behaviour that is unacceptable, how such behaviour will be dealt with and how an employee can make a complaint. This should include details of how social media should be used responsibly.
  • Your workplace policies should cover activity via the internet, emails, smart phones, and networking websites.
  • Employees should also be made aware that what some may see as harmless banter, others may perceive as harassment, so care should be taken to detail your equal opportunity policies highlighting what discrimination, bullying, harassment and victimisation are.
  • These policies should be available to all members of staff, either in a written handbook or via the intranet.
  • You should take time to carry out staff training in this area. Your  workplace policy should make it clear that if the workplace policy isn’t followed then you, as an employer, may take disciplinary action – and set out what this action will be.
  • Impress upon your staff that any photographs of them or any posts from them in a compromising situation could reflect badly on you as an employer and it is not something you deem acceptable.
  • Make sure all staff are aware that if they mention their place of work on their personal social media profiles that any views posted there, or shared from there, are strictly their own and not the opinions of their employer.
  • It is wise for an employer to have an IT policy in place, which sets out whether employees are free to access their social media channels via work IP addresses and devices, or whether this is forbidden
  • Be aware that an employer can check emails and social networking sites if an employee reports instances of cyber bullying. But, an employer must tell the employees being watched, and they must determine that their reasons are justified under Data Protection laws.

The more clearly you set out the responsibilities of employees and your organisation’s rules and views on the sharing of social media content, you are less likely to face legal action if an employer posts or shares something ill-advised.

Natasha Johnston is an HR Advisor at JCP Solicitors. For detailed advice about outsourced HR support and issues such as discrimination, contact Natasha Johnston on 01792 525478 or: Natasha.johnston@jcpsolicitors.co.uk

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