What Control can an Employer Exercise over an Employee’s Social Media Accounts?

Posted in : First Tuesday Q&A NI on 6 June 2023
Chris Fullerton
Arthur Cox NI
Issues covered: Social Media; Policies and Procedures

More and more businesses have been utilising social media as a tool for building brand awareness and client interaction whether it be on LinkedIn, Instagram or TikTok. However, whilst an asset, social media can present employers with challenges particularly in relation to their employee’s use of it.

Employers could be faced with employees using social media inappropriately whether it be in the context of cyberbullying, breach of confidentiality or bringing their employer, as an organisation, into disrepute. For example, in Northern Ireland there have been various instances whereby employees are identified through videos shared on social media singing sectarian songs or chants, resulting in their suspension and subsequent dismissal from an organisation.

Thereafter, whilst social media can be used personally by an employee outside the context of their employment, it can still have implications in the eyes of their employer. Although an employer cannot control how employees use their social media, it is important that clear guidance is in place to ensure that there is no ambiguity in how social media use can have consequences within the workplace.

In itself, an employer should ensure that there is a standalone social media policy that makes it clear to the employees how to use social media and the company’s expectations of such: for example, an organisation may wish to dissuade employees from expressing political views online – employees should be advised to be mindful of what they are putting out online and if this could jeopardize their employment or credibility in the workplace.

It is advisable that all employee handbooks should include reference to social networking and media in their disciplinary and grievance policies when discussing gross misconduct. For example, posting derogatory or offensive comments about the company or a fellow colleague that constitutes harassment. Furthermore, cyberbullying should be imbedded in a company’s bullying and harassment policy to cover harassment through the use of social media and other online platforms.

As social media is an everchanging area, it is important to keep all policies covering it under review and to update where necessary with refresher sessions with employees where required.

Legal Island Training Resources for Your Staff

Social Media in the Workplace | eLearning Course

Are you responsible for overseeing the implementation of training for all employees in your organisation? Legal Island’s Social Media in the Workplace eLearning course will help employees understand how the misuse of social media can impact them and their employers, sharing practical examples and useful tips on how to use social media responsibly.

Click here to view our eLearning course on social media in the workplace. 

Back to Q&A's This article is correct at 06/06/2023

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Chris Fullerton
Arthur Cox NI

The main content of this article was provided by Chris Fullerton. Contact telephone number is 028 9023 0007 or email Chris.Fullerton@arthurcox.com

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