Managing the Social Media Revolution in Your Workplace

Posted in : HR Matters on 1 December 2014
Kiera Lee
Mills Selig
Issues covered:

If citizens can use social media to orchestrate a revolution powerful enough to overthrow a government and to dictate pricing structures to a multimillion pound TV business then there is no doubt it can impact the working environment.

Social media is here to stay and whether businesses embrace it as part of their strategy or not, it remains omnipresent. Ignoring the issues is no longer an option. Employers should now face the impact social media has on employment relations within their organisation.

What is it?

Social media falls into a number of different categories and employers should be aware of the different types so that they can be alive to the issues they may present. Blogs, social or business networking (Facebook or LinkedIn), MMPORG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) and digital data sharing sites are just some of the main examples of these categories.

Where employees have access to the internet at work the lines between work and free time can become blurred and it is important to have boundaries and consequences clearly defined. 

Reputational Damage

Where the employer uses social media for business purposes it should issue clear guidelines to the employees who have access to this on the expected standard, content and limits of this use. This should limit the risks of potential liability for inadvertently entering into a contract, defamation, disclosure of confidential information, intellectual property disputes and criminal offences.

The use of social media, which does not form part of an employee’s job description, gives rise to further challenges. Likely circumstances may be where the employee directly criticises their employer via social media or causes reputational damage by association – where an employee makes inappropriate, offensive or illegal postings and that employee can be clearly associated with their employer.

When deciding on a response to an employee making potentially damaging comments on social media employers must consider the following – the nature of the comment and the potential readership, whether an actual damage has been caused and whether there has been any breach of company policy or rules. Any action against the employee should be proportionate.

Performance Issues

Where employees are permitted to use social media during working hours or break times employers may consider monitoring the time spent to ensure it does not impact performance. Constant access to social media can be disruptive and lead to obsessive or compulsive use. From a health and safety perspective employees should still be encouraged to take a proper break away from their computers and this may have a particular importance for remote workers. Any home working policy should address this.

Confidential Information and Data Protection

Employees have a duty to keep confidential information private and should be reminded that this also applies to posting information on line. The use of ‘LinkedIn’ encourages employees to create a list of business contacts which could include customers or clients. 

Any policy should address the proprietary rights of the employer to customer contact lists and cross refer to non-solicitation and confidentiality clauses. Use of personal information may also give rise to breaches of the Data Protection Act and employees should be cautioned against publishing the private details of clients, customers and colleagues.

Bullying, Harassment and Discrimination

One of the most publicised negative effects of social media is the platform it provides for bullying, discrimination and harassment. Employees should be in no doubt that the use of social media in this way amounts to the same disciplinary offence as it would do if conducted in person and the sanctions will the same. They should also be made aware that this is the case even where it occurs outside working hours. 

An employer may be held vicariously liable for discrimination by employees during the course of their employment and the victim can bring claim against both employer and perpetrator. It is incumbent upon employers to action in these circumstances. Employers should consider the appropriate sanction for such offences but there is clear case law to support that events online and outside working hours may still constitute harassment warranting dismissal. In Gosden v Lifeline Project Ltd ET/2802731/2009 an employment tribunal found that an employee was dismissed fairly when he sent a racially offensive email from his home computer to a colleague’s home computer and in Teggart v TeleTech UK Limited NIIT 00704/11 the tribunal held that an employee who posted vulgar comments about a colleague on his Facebook page was fairly dismissed.

Monitoring and Privacy

There is a balance to be sought between an employer’s wish to protect itself and the employees’ right to privacy. Over-rigid rules can invite non-compliance and cause resentment amongst employees. Employers should reserve the right to monitor employee communications and remove any expectation of privacy. On the other hand an employee can hardly expect to rely on a breach of privacy when posting information on to an open website.

Employers are entitled to carry out disciplinary action for work-related misconduct that comes to light via social media. In Gill v SAS Ground Services UK Ltd [2009], an employer discovered through Facebook that an employee was at London Fashion Week when she was claiming to be on sick leave. The tribunal held the reason for dismissal to be fair. 

Social Networking and Recruitment

The growing use of social media to advertise and recruit has certain benefits. It’s fast, direct and cheap. Where employers access online information for the purposes of reaching a decision they need to be aware that any recording or use of this data may constitute the processing of personal data for data protections purposes. They should apply their usual data protection policies to this information. Employers should also be careful to apply the principles of equal opportunities to this information.

Protective Measures

  • Issue company guidelines for use of social media.
  • Adopt a social media policy and carefully cross-reference it to other relevant policies such as disciplinary, confidentiality and data protection policies
  • Update restrictive covenants to reflect ownership of clients and customers
  • Monitor company-related social media
This article is correct at 01/12/2014

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.

Kiera Lee
Mills Selig

The main content of this article was provided by Kiera Lee. Contact telephone number is 028 9024 3878 or email

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