Managing risk

Managing social media in the workplace

A significant number of Australians use social media platforms, both for work and private purposes. In fact, recent statistics reveal 79% of Australians are on social media, and more than 21% have reported using social media at work.

While social media can benefit employers in recruitment or branding efforts, it’s best practice for employers to have a social media workplace policy in place. This minimises the workplace risks associated with social media, including risks to an employer’s reputation, or bullying and harassment risks.

A social media workplace policy outlines acceptable and unacceptable uses of social media at work, as well as a social media code of conduct. In this case, social media in the workplace includes an employee’s personal accounts and company social media accounts.

Here, we review the importance of having a social media policy in the workplace. In addition, we provide you with useful tips to create and implement a social media policy within your organisation.

The importance of a social media policy in the workplace

Social media isn’t going away any time soon, and boundaries between personal and work life are becoming more blurred. 

Some employees may use social media to express their views about an organisation, or communicate with colleagues. This exposes employers to risks, particularly if an employee discloses sensitive information, shares negative opinions about their employer or bullies another employee or customer. 

Employers may also be held accountable for the comments or actions of employees on their personal social media (known as vicarious liability). All of this can apply for comments made on social media during work hours, or even outside of work.

While you may want to introduce a blanket ban on social media to prevent this from occurring, this often isn’t realistic. Although it could be possible to impose a ban within your organisation’s IT system, the prevalence of smartphones and tablets means most employees can still access their social media accounts. In addition, some employees may need to use social media for recruitment or communication purposes, and banning social media isn’t desirable.

As an employer, the best way to protect your reputation and your employees is to have a clear social media policy.

How to manage employee use of social media

Employers can minimise the risks associated with social media by implementing and maintaining a clear and effective social media in the workplace policy. This should clearly define acceptable and unacceptable behaviour on social media, as well as consequences for any breach in the policy. 

Clearly define what is and isn’t acceptable

Your social media policy should include clear guidelines on what employees are and are not permitted to do on social media. In particular, the policy should cover what is acceptable for employees when referring to your organisation, products or services, staff, clients or competitors.

In general, unacceptable behaviours on social media include comments or actions that are either:

  • likely to cause serious damage to the relationship between the employer and the employee

  • damaging to the employer’s interests

  • incompatible with the employees duty as an employee.

Outline a code of conduct in relation to bullying and harassment 

Employees may be friends with, or follow other employees on social media. However, comments made in a public forum may form the basis of serious misconduct, even if it occurred outside work hours. Actions, such as unfriending someone on Facebook, could even be considered as bullying. 

In your social media policy, it’s important to highlight bullying, discrimination and harassment is unacceptable. If any misconduct occurs on social media, your business may be at risk of legal action unless you can prove you took reasonable steps to prevent the acts from occurring.

Ensure the policy doesn’t infringe an employee’s right to privacy

A clear and effective social media policy increases protection for an organisation and its employees, without unreasonably infringing on an employees’ right to privacy. 

Your social media policy should clearly state that it applies to an employee’s private use of social media. This could be on a work computer, on an employee’s private computer or device, or on a work phone. However, it’s important not to breach an employee’s privacy. 

Regulating an employee’s private social media use should only apply if it has an impact on their employment or the organisation.

Outline the consequences of breaching the policy

Your social media policy should explicitly state the consequences of a breach by employees. This could include the disciplinary process and actions that may be taken, and a reminder that serious misconduct could result in termination of employment. 

Ensure the social media policy is understood

It is not enough to simply have a social media policy. In order to ensure your policy is effective, employees must clearly understand it. Conduct training for employees on the contents of the social media policy, and provide everyone with access to a copy. 

Your social media policy should also be a working document. This means it is regularly updated to account for any updates in social media use, or any new technologies.

Enforcing your social media policy for employees

As mentioned above, an effective social media policy allows you to discipline an employee whose conduct is in breach of the policy. It’s important to follow through with disciplinary action in order to uphold the policy’s credibility. 

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