Our general position at face2faceHR is that small employers (or in fact any employer) should only have policies that it genuinely needs, and should not have thick handbooks full of policies that are not necessary and will never be read or used.
But some things are important for every employer, regardless of size, and there is a very strong argument that every single employer should have some kind of clear guidance on social media as part of its HR policies or staff handbook. Here are some reasons why this is important:
1. The potential impact is significant
We’ve all seen how something can “go viral’ and cause huge damage to business reputations and individual lives – the potential for something as simple as a few words or a photograph to have a tremendous impact is only possible because of social media, and the impact can be, or feel, completely disproportionate to the level of effort involved. Because it’s so easy to send a message or tweet a few words, it’s easy to forget how much of an impact those words can potentially have, and guidance can help reinforce this and remind employees of the potential damage that can be done and how to avoid it.
2. Clarity of expectations and responsibilities reduces likelihood of problems
Having clear guidance sets out expectations on both sides. The employee is clear what is and what isn’t acceptable, and is similarly clear what the outcome may be in the event of a breach. If everyone is clear what is acceptable and what isn’t, problems are less likely to occur in the first place- there is a disincentive to (for example) post derogatory comments about the employer on Facebook because the employee knows there are significant risks involved for them.
3. Solid grounds to take disciplinary action
If problems do occur, and there has been clear guidance highlighted to the employee at an early stage, the employer has solid grounds on which to act. Although many dismissals relating to social media coming through the tribunals have been found to be fair, the employer is more likely to run into problems if expectations and likely outcomes are not clear to employees in the first place, and there is either ambiguity or an expectation that employees’ common sense is sufficient.
4. Protect the employer against liability
Guidance alone may not prevent employees from taking unacceptable action, of course, including harassment or discriminatory behaviour online. But if the employer has made clear to staff what behaviour is unacceptable, it is less likely the employer will be found liable in the event of a legal claim by a victim of online harassment or similar.
5. Helps compliance with employer obligations
Social media activity is very relevant when it comes to compliance with laws on subjects like data protection and discrimination, so having a clear policy on social media use will help your business ensure its obligations to protect personal data and to prevent unlawful discrimination are met
Ultimately this is now the world we live in – people live their lives on social media, and many people are constantly on various social media platforms, sometimes to the exclusion of “real life’ interaction. Whether we think this is a good thing or not, it’s the reality and it has a significant impact on the workplace and on your business, and anything which can or does have a big impact is something you need to think about and consider issuing guidance on.
If you need further advice on implementing social media policy, do get in touch.