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With the rise of social media platforms soaring in the last 10 years, it is very likely that a high percentage of your employees have social media accounts such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or now, TikTok.

The misuse of social media by employees can have consequences for employers, irrespective of whether it occurred in the workplace. This can especially be the case when the employer is managing an already stressful situation, such as the Coronavirus pandemic. We have seen a rise in incidents of employees sharing views about how their employer has or is dealing with the pandemic which can have an adverse effect on any strategic plan in place or reputational consequences. Actions an employer can take to limit potential damage caused by employees’ use of social media are explored below.

The importance of managing the use of social media by employees

It is not just negative comments about an employer that can be damaging for an organisation. Employees posting inappropriate content about other employees or even customers or students, if working within a school, can also have an adverse impact in the workplace. In a school setting, employers must also be alive to any potential safeguarding issues and teachers’ standards that may be infringed from the use of social media by staff.

How to manage the use of social media by employees

The main method of managing the use of social media by employees is to ensure you have an effective social media policy in place. This allows employers to minimise any risk associated with employee’s use of social media. This policy should set out what is and what is not an acceptable use of social media and outline disciplinary measures the employer will take as a result of any breaches of the policy. Publishing confidential information on social media would for an example be a clear breach as is posting negative reviews of an employer that have the potential of harming their reputation.

It will be important to ensure that the policy does not have the effect of silencing employees and that the boundary between work-related and personal social media use is not crossed. Employers must be careful to avoid infringing on an employee’s private life or restricting their freedom of expression which are protected under Articles 8 and 10 of the Human Rights Act 1998. On the other hand, the policy should aim to protect other employees against bullying via social media as well as ensure effective reputational protections are in place.

The policy should further make clear the consequences of any breach such commencing disciplinary procedures. Normal disciplinary processes should be followed and a fair process should be adopted throughout which takes into account the seriousness of that breach. It is also important to ensure that the policy is enforceable by making it widely available to employees and that it is regularly kept up to date.

For serious reputational damage as a result of an employee’s use of social media, employers could also consider pursing an action for defamation or malicious falsehood against the employee, provided the conditions have been met.

With the use of social media rising each day, it is essential employers have an effective policy in place to mitigate any risk of damage. If you require any assistance in the preparation of a social media policy or if you are seeking advice following a damaging post published by an employee on social media, please do get in touch with one of our employment lawyers.