What an employee says and does on social media, including
outside work time, can have an adverse effect on the business they
work for or the colleagues they work with.
The public nature of communication on social media means
employees need to be held liable for their conduct both during and
outside of work hours. Employers may also be liable for the conduct
of their employees on social media if it is connected with the
employment relationship, and the employer has not taken reasonable
steps to avoid that conduct occurring.
All employers should have social media policies in place to
outline their expectations of appropriate social media use, and the
consequences of breaches. A clear social media policy should manage
what can and cannot be said on behalf of the business on social
media. This policy can also safeguard the business against the
risks that arise from improper use by employees.
This policy should be tailored to the business's needs and
reflect other organisational policies. Here are the most important
reasons why your workplace should have a social media policy if it
What employees say and do on social media can damage the
reputation of the business they work for. This could include
employees talking in a defamatory way about their colleagues or
superiors, clients or customers, or say things that hurt the
business they work for, or give away confidential or private
information. It could also include less direct statements, such as
posting derogatory comments or sharing contentious political
opinions which may be wrongly attributed or connected to the
Mandatory disclaimers about opinions expressed and rules
preventing what an employee can say about the business could help
to combat these risks.
What constitutes an appropriate social media policy depends on
the nature of the organisation and the risk posed by the social
media activity. Professionals, school teachers, government workers
and journalists, for example, would be subject to stricter policies
than a cafe worker. But any employee can wreak havoc on a business
with inappropriate social media activity.
PROTECTING CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION
Disclosure of confidential information or trade secrets on
social media represents a significant threat. A social media policy
that clearly outlines what information cannot be shared will
mitigate this risk. These guidelines should apply to both official
social media accounts of the business as well as personal employee
Having a policy in place allows you to take action against an
offending employee if the disclosure of information has a
particularly severe effect and the employee in question was
properly informed about the policy and are adequately trained to
abide by its terms. Nearly every organisation has
information-sensitive information, making it important to develop
and communicate clear guidelines on social media use.
PREVENTING BULLYING AND HARASSMENT
Discrimination, bullying and harassment of employees on social
media are some of the most obvious areas that should be covered in
a policy. Any social media use that breaches another policy of the
organisation should be addressed by the employer.
A social media policy should emphasise that bullying and
harassment policies extend to social media and explain the
consequences of breaching them. Workplace harassment that occurs
online rather than in person will not relieve you of liability as
JUSTIFYING DISCIPLINARY ACTION
The Fair Work Commission has ruled that misconduct on social
media can provide a valid reason to dismiss an employee. The
Commission has also stated that a social media policy is a
legitimate exercise of an employer's power to protect the
security and reputation of their business.
If disciplinary action relating to social media use is
necessary, you need to provide adequate grounds to do so. By having
a social media policy that clearly sets out what is and is not
acceptable behaviour, and employees are made aware of and informed
of the policy and its obligations, you ensure that your employees
are well-informed. This means that they know their rights,
obligations and the circumstances in which they may be disciplined
for their conduct outside of the workplace.
PROFESSIONAL HR ADVICE
Drafting a social media policy involves a broad range of
factors. Ensuring it is done right requires knowledge of employment law
issues and case law surrounding social media conduct. Every
business has different values and risks that impact how the social
media policy should be formulated.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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