Social networking and the workplace

WILL OAKES of Attwells Solicitors highlights some of the issues surrounding the use of social networking sites in relation to work or employment

WILL OAKES of Attwells Solicitors highlights some of the issues surrounding the use of social networking sites in relation to work or employment

AT A time when almost all office-based roles involve the use of a personal computer the meteoric rise in the popularity of so-called “social networking” sites presents a number of potential issues for employers.

Most employers seek to strike a compromise between allowing employees to have access to such sites and maintaining control over inappropriate use.

As part of the quest to optimise employee productivity during working hours, many employers restrict the type of websites that can be visited by employees.

Although one option for employers would be to prohibit the use of such sites altogether, a more measured, and perhaps realistic, approach would be to devise a clear policy with underlying guidelines which informs employees of what is, and is not, deemed acceptable use. If an employer has no such policy or the rules are not clear an employee it will be very difficult to take action for perceived misuse.

If as an employer you intend to monitor your employees' use of the internet at work this intention must be clearly referred to in the Internet Usage Policy. The policy must be drawn to the attention of new employees and existing employees should be periodically reminded of the existence of the policy and how and when it can be inspected.

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In the past, employers have acted to dismiss employees as a consequence of defamatory comments made by employees on social networking sites. If employers feel that comments have been made which will cause damage to the reputation of their business then remedies may be available through the commencement of legal proceedings for defamation.

If an employer wants to take disciplinary action against an employee as a consequence of this type of misconduct it is essential to follow a reasonable and fair procedure.

The basic features of such a procedure will be that issues should be raised and dealt with promptly and there should not be unreasonable delays in holding meetings, making decisions or providing confirmation. Employees should be informed of the allegations against them and should be given an opportunity to put their case in response before decisions are reached. Employers should allow employees to be accompanied at any formal disciplinary or grievance meeting and should give them the right to appeal before a decision is reached.

Although some firms admit to checking out employees on social networking sites it is inadvisable. Not all applicants will have a profile online and this could give some applicants an unfair advantage or disadvantage. Online profiles do not always provide an accurate snapshot of an individual's life and could lead to prejudicial conclusions which, if acted upon, could amount to a breach of discrimination law.