Social media and other employee issues

May 26, 2014 | Business Principles

Part of the challenge of managing staff is that employee issues are not clean and uncomplicated – often a client is dealing with multiple issues to do with the same member of staff simultaneously.  And similarly, even an issue which seems relatively straightforward can become more complicated when social media activity becomes a factor in the case.
So aside from the more obvious potential issues like reputation damage for the company on social media, confidentiality and security, the subject of social media crops up frequently as part of the overall picture/a relevant factor in more day-to-day issues. Here are some examples to consider:

Social media and absence

If you have an employee with a sickness absence problem, part of the problem might be you don’t think they are always genuinely sick, or that the absence is strictly necessary. So where does social media come into this? Well, some employees will include their manager on their Facebook friends (we don’t advise this by the way), and will then be daft enough to post pictures of themselves out having a very heavy night before calling in sick the following morning. Or even if you are not their friend on Facebook, someone at work often is, and you will find you get print-outs and complaints from others who are perhaps aggrieved at their colleague taking unnecessary absence and fed up with picking up the slack. So is it ok to act on information given by others? Yes, as part of an overall context. Don’t go using any subterfuge to get access to private social media accounts, but if presented with evidence that someone is doing something wrong at work, you can certainly take that into account, as long as you obviously give the employee reasonable opportunity to explain themselves.

Social media and discipline/grievances

Even if there is a discipline or grievance issue in progress which has nothing to do with social media itself, you may find social media becomes part of the issue at a later point. For example if you’re disciplining someone for something and they feel aggrieved about it, they may have a moan on social media, which then brings into play the question of company reputational damage.
Obviously an aggrieved employee is likely to only offer their side of any dispute on social media, and when this is being presented to lots of close friends, there can be a tendency for the issue to become built up even further in the employee’s mind, with no stabilising “voice of reason” and lots of outraged posts and encouragement from friends to take things further.
Similarly, friends often post “helpful’ advice about the employee’s legal rights in a situation, which is frequently inaccurate and not conducive to settling any dispute in a calm manner quickly. So the flavour of the dispute can change as a result of the involvement of social media.

Social media and employee relationships

Colleagues at work often become “friends” on Facebook or link on other social media networks. This is of course fine, but there are a couple of things to be aware of in these circumstances. Some employees may feel excluded if they are not on social media or are not invited to be friends or link up while others are. Cyber-bullying is also something to be aware of – employees who are not necessarily getting on may act out their dispute outside work and on social media, which has the dual problem of possible corporate reputational damage as well as the potential for bullying claims. If someone feels bullied by a colleague outside of work, it absolutely is your problem, even if no bullying activity is taking place during working hours or in the workplace.
So as well as sorting out a good social media policy and being concerned about protecting your corporate image and confidentiality, be aware of how social media can creep into other employee issues and make sure you are considering that when dealing with those issues at work.
If you would like further advice on how social media can have an impact on other employee issues, do get in touch.