Gary Lineker’s now infamous tweet on the Government’s immigration policy has once again cast the spotlight on workplace social media policies. Whilst the Match of the Day presenter and ex-England captain is not technically an employee of the BBC, it does raise the question of whether an employer can sanction employees over personal social media posts. A robust social media policy will be the starting point, says Marianne Johnson Solicitor in the Employment team.
The reputation of an organisation is built over many years through interactions with its many stakeholders. It is a fragile thing that can be damaged overnight. A careless social media post or an online rant from a misguided employee can have a significant and detrimental impact.
And whilst an employer cannot control what employees do in their own time and on their own devices, a robust social media policy can go some way to protect the business and its employees.
An effective social media policy should send a clear signal to employees about what is expected of them when using social media and what happens if they fall short of those expectations.
Social media policy
So what should a social media policy address? That will, of course, depend on the size and nature of the organisation, but as a minimum, a social media policy should address:
- Offensive posts about work,
- Offensive posts on personal accounts,
- Abuse of colleagues and cyberbullying,
- Bringing the employer into disrepute,
- Pornographic content,
- Inappropriate emails from personal accounts,
- Personal use of the internet at work, and
- Sharing of confidential information.
In a more connected world, where it is easy to link the use of one platform to another, a social media policy should help employees understand that they are responsible for what they say online whether it is related or not to work. What you say matters.
It can also be helpful to include examples of good practice and misuse when using devices provided by an employer, such as standard form disclaimers for user biographies, and on personal devices.
Work or home
It is entirely possible for an employer to restrict the use of social media by its workforce during working hours, and in some workplaces that might be entirely appropriate and sensible. But, with the boundaries between work and home increasingly blurred, such restrictions can be difficult to enforce and can have a detrimental impact on corporate culture. They are also notoriously difficult to enforce, effectively inviting staff to break the rules.
Just as other workplace policies reflect changing working patterns, so too should social media policies.
The need to understand how a social media policy will interact with other workplace policies is important. IT policies, for example, should include the use of social media on workplace devices, and policies on harassment and bullying should encompass online behaviour.
Social media is a rapidly evolving landscape with individuals using various platforms in very different ways. That means social media policies should be reviewed regularly and changed accordingly.
Training can play an important role in helping employees understand a social media policy and the impact of their online behaviour on themselves, their colleagues and their employer.
Finally, social media policies should be clear on how employees will be treated if they abuse or misuse social media in a way that is detrimental to their employer. The differences between misconduct and gross misconduct will naturally be incident specific but it can be helpful for a social media policy to give illustrative examples.
Whilst not everyone will have the same following or impact as Gary Lineker, what is said about our colleagues and employers can be just as damaging. It is important that employers and their employees take that seriously.
Contact our Employment Team
The above is accurate as at 15 March 2023. The information above may be subject to change during these ever-changing times.
The content of this event should not be considered legal advice and each matter should be considered on a case-by-case basis.