Social media is part of our culture. We spend far too long glued to our phones, checking out who said what to whom and, sometimes, piling in on debates. It is very easy to get drawn into arguments and say or respond to something we later regret. Danny Baker is the latest high profile individual to find that his tweet about the royal baby caused such a furore that the BBC decided to sack him.
There have been countless examples of individuals using social media to post embarrassing pictures (of themselves and others), make inflammatory remarks, or to moan about their boss/job/customers etc. The problem of course is that unlike sounding off to your mates at the pub, posting comments via social media creates a permanent record and once something has been sent, the writer has no control over who else sees it.
Employees are entitled to a private life and to hold opinions that you may not agree with but there are steps you can take to prevent your staff from damaging your reputation via social media.
Develop a social media policy
You can discipline, and in serious cases dismiss staff for posting comments that cause reputational damage if you have a policy which spells out what your staff can and cannot say about your company, its values, customers or users, or about other people within the organisation.
Also, make sure that your staff understand that if their profiles or posts identify you as their employer, they must not make discriminatory or offensive comments that could also cause you reputational damage. Make it clear that tagging 'views are my own' onto their twitter profile will not stop you taking action if your reputation is, or could have been harmed by what they have said.
An absolute ban on staff befriending customers or referring to the work they do is probably unrealistic. There is no 'one size fits all’ but a middle ground might be to require employees who do identify you as their employer (or who are online ‘friends’ with customers who know you to be their employer) to maintain professional standards in their postings.
Staff should be reminded that they must not spread workplace 'gossip' or post confidential information about the business itself or its customers.
If you consider that certain online behaviour is so serious, it will constitute gross misconduct you must explain in the social media policy what behaviour will entitle you to dismiss an employee without notice. You should make sure that this is added to any other acts of gross misconduct set out in your disciplinary policy.
It is essential that your staff understand that these restrictions are not limited to comments they make during working hours using company equipment but apply equally to information posted using their own devices in their own time. This is something that employees still misunderstand.
Without a social media policy, employers will find it more difficult to discipline staff for posting inappropriate comments. To start with you will need to find out how much damage or potential damage has been caused to your business reputation – something you may prefer not to do, as it runs the risk of highlighting to a client, something that they may not be even aware of. Even if you can show that your client might have read or seen the message, you should not take a disproportionate view of the damage that has, or could have been incurred.
Train your staff
It is not enough to write a policy. You must make sure that your employees understand it and particularly, what is expected of them. Give all members of staff copies of company policies (or tell them how to access these) and provide relevant training.
Make sure your managers set the standard
It is no good having a policy unless it is followed by everyone within the organisation, from the top down. There should be no exceptions and managers should lead by example.
Prevent harassment and bullying via social media
You may also need to update your equal opportunities/harassment and bullying policies to include cyber bullying. Make sure your employees understand that they should not post discriminatory comments about other members of staff, or customers on social networks – even on forums that they consider to be private as this may expose you to discrimination claims.
Social media should not be used to voice workplace disputes
Remind employees that they should not to use social networks to raise grievances. Work related problems should be dealt with under your organisation’s grievance procedures.
Take appropriate action against employees
Act quickly once you become aware of issues. If you believe that an employee has posted inappropriate, damaging or discriminatory remarks online, ask them to remove the posts. Then, follow your disciplinary procedure and impose a suitable sanction. In most cases a written or final warning should be sufficient for a first offence. Make sure that the employee understands what will happen if they post any further inappropriate comments (ie they will receive a final written warning or may be dismissed).
This will send out a message to your staff that you treat breaches seriously and will, over time, encourage staff to think carefully before firing off random and ill-considered comments.
Need more information?
Our partner Glenn Hayes can help you draft a suitable policy and fairly deal with employees who breach it.
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“Sorry my gag pic of the little fella in the posh outfit has whipped some up. Never occurred to me because, well, mind not diseased,”. “Soon as those good enough to point out it’s possible connotations got in touch, down it came. And that’s it.” - Danny Baker