Social media problems: how to avoid these five issues in the workplace

Alan Price outlines five key social media problems in the workplace and how to avoid them.

Social media certainly has its uses in the workplace.

Employers are using the platform as a means of communication, to set tasks, promote their companies and rely on employees to do the same. Despite the advantages, some use may have a detrimental effect on relationships between employer and employees or between employees themselves.

Dealing with social media problems can often be achieved through control of employees’ social media use within, as well as, outside the office, but this must be incorporated into the employee’s contract or employee handbook.

Here are the top five issues that social media can bring to the workplace.

1. Bullying and harassment

Some employees may use their social media account to manifest their views of work, their employer or fellow employees.

An employer cannot ban staff from having social media accounts, but you should make it clear to all employees that posting comments of bullying or harassing nature will not be overlooked. Your policy should state that negative comments which identify you or other employees and create an intimidating or humiliating environment will be dealt with under the disciplinary procedure. As an employer, you are under a duty of care to take action against an employee who is discriminating or harassing a colleague.

2. Damage to employer’s public reputation

When employees get frustrated or agitated with a situation which has arisen at work, they may take it to their personal social media account to express their views on the situation.

Alternatively, employees may post comments or photos on their account which also identifies them as an employee of your company and there is potential for this to affect your company’s public reputation. To prevent this, you should include a restriction either in the contract of employment or through a workplace policy.

The restriction can prevent employees from posting material or comments which may be seen as offensive, or have a detrimental effect on your organisation. This will allow you to take action against them if they breach the policy regardless of whether they identify your company on their accounts.

It is important to highlight that any comment which may destroy the trust and confidence supporting the employment relationship will be treated in the same way as if it was said in the workplace and you may take disciplinary action.

3. Using social media during working hours

Social media gives people silent access to their friends 24 hours a day and it can be difficult for employees to completely switch off from it while they’re at work.

Think about your social media use at work

Accessing social media on work equipment should be prohibited otherwise you could end up with employees spending more time on social media than doing their work. Many employers allow use of work equipment for personal use during break times but operate a ban at other times.

Monitoring internet usage can help police this but employees must be made aware of any monitoring policies that an employer has. While you cannot monitor employees’ use of their own mobile devices during work time, it is easier to notice an employee skiving using their phone; they could still look like they were doing work whilst surfing the internet on their computer.

4. Work-related social media

Some social media sites focus more on work life than home life and employees can be easily targeted by your competitors.

You cannot physically prevent an employee from being poached to work for a competitor but you can include post-termination restriction on their work activity when they no longer work for you, for example, restricting them from working for certain competitors for a period of time. Breaching the restrictions can entitle you to sue them for any financial damages you have suffered by their actions.

5. Keeping passwords safe

Where employees need to post on the company’s social media sites as part of their job, you should strictly enforce the need for confidentiality regarding access details including username and password.

Employees should be told not to disclose the access details to any other person. You should also make clear to them the parameters of their usage regarding exactly what they can and cannot post including whether they are allowed to give their own opinions.

Alan Price is employment law director of Peninsula.

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