Social media is an excellent marketing tool for many businesses but like all business practices it is wise to have safeguards in place to protect your company’s reputation from over enthusiastic or mis-guided staff. 

Verrill Public Relations asked social media legal expert Mandy Walton of law firm Chadwick Lawrence for her legal opinion.

The social media explosion has raised important questions about the boundaries of the employment relationship and social media. Where do an individual’s obligations to their employer end and their private life begin?

I would always recommend businesses adopt a social media policy to make it clear to employees what is and isn’t deemed acceptable.  I would recommend businesses consider the following points and ensure these are covered within any policy: –

  • Policy statement – I would recommend a policy statement is included to stipulate what the intention of the policy is and what the company hopes to achieve by it.
  • Who is covered – businesses should consider whether they want to limit the policy to cover employees only or whether they want to extend beyond and cover directors, consultants, contractors, temporary staff, etc.
  • Who implements the policy – I would always recommend that before a policy is implemented it is discussed with senior management to make sure all managers are in agreement with the policy and are willing to implement it and enforce it.
  • Is there a link to other polices – such a policy may need to be read in conjunction with an employer’s other policies including an equal opportunities policy, and anti harassment and bullying policy, a data protection policy and an acceptable use of IT policy.
  • Personal use – this is often a difficult point to address and whilst you cannot control an employees private life, companies can control employees actions where it impacts upon a business and its reputation. Companies can ban access to social media on work IT equipment completely if the business feels this is justified. Alternatively businesses can opt to have a policy saying that employees cannot identify themselves as being employed by the business and no comments must be made in relation to anything work related on any social media forum.
  • Business use – companies can define what is and isn’t permitted as far as business use is concerned. This can include limiting business use to certain individuals.
  • Monitoring – a policy should warn employees that both business and personal use of social media will be monitored and any behaviour in breach of the policy could result in disciplinary action being taken.
  • Incorporating the policy – simply issuing a policy or giving staff a handbook full of polices is insufficient if you are ever faced with a social media problem with an employee. Recommended best practice is to have the employee sign something, either a copy of the policy or a signature sheet, to confirm they have read and understood the policy.

Action can be taken against employees who breach policy and I would always recommend businesses seek assistance when trying to tackle such an issue as what action you take is entirely dependant upon the facts of each case.

Mandy Walton  can be contacted  at MandyWalton@chadlaw.co.uk