We’ve been on a mini-mission since the end of last year to raise awareness of the challenges social media usage is presenting to businesses.
We wrote about the inappropriate pictures from the Christmas Party being posted to Facebook. We wrote about the case of the HMV worker who hijacked the corporate Twitter account and provided a live commentary of the redundancy announcement. Now there’s another case which further demonstrates the need for businesses to put firm policies in place.
In Smith v Trafford Housing Trust, Smith posted to Facebook that he was against gay marriage. The Trafford Housing Trust believed that this could bring them into disrepute and disciplined him for the comments. The High Court disagreed and found there to have been no breach of contract.
So what can we learn from this?
Be reasonable – the need for a proportional response
It can be tempting to have a knee jerk reaction to comments made on social media sites when you are unhappy with the content. Whilst you may indeed be aggrieved by what has been said you need to assess whether there is any real chance of the comments bringing the company into disrepute.
- Is there anything in the comment that allows the reader to identify that you are the employer of the individual?
- Would people reading the comment know that the individual is employed by you?
- How many people are actually likely to see the comment?
- If the comment jeopardises a client relationship have you spoken with the client and gained their view or have they expressed any concern? You’ll want to be careful here. If it’s unlikely that a client has seen the comment and you’re able to get it removed quickly you may not want to bring the issue to their attention. Equally, you may feel it better that you demonstrate openness with the client and are seen to be pro-active. You’ll need to make a judgement call here.
Having rationally assessed the situation you can move forward with more confidence that your reaction is proportionate.
Set a policy
We’ve been encouraging businesses to ensure that they have a social media usage policy in place. This policy should cover areas such as:
- How and when social media sites can be accessed? Are you happy for people to access them via company computers or should they use their own devices? Are there set times when sites can be used i.e. lunchtime?
- Your company rules on what can be posted to sites. Clearly you can’t stop people expressing opinion and posting personal information but you can make it clear that employees should not reveal details of their employer. You can state that any comments which cause offence to other team members may be cause for disciplinary action. Remind employees about their contractual obligation not to bring the company into disrepute.
- What is the company policy on client requests through social media sites? You may want to stipulate that employees are not able to “friend” clients on these sites but that it is acceptable on professional networking sites such as LinkedIn.
- Be clear on the consequences – as with any policy it’s important that you’re clear on the potential repercussions of the misuse of social media sites. Be clear that complaints will be investigated and may result in disciplinary action.
We really do urge you to take steps to protect your business in this area. Social media usage isn’t set to go away any time soon and the issues arising are becoming more and more apparent.
As we now have clarity on the legal position it’s a good time to put a policy in place. Give us a call on 0203 319 1649 if you’d like any help on this or use of contact form and we’ll be in touch.