UK: Social Media - An Employer's Guide

Last Updated: 17 October 2011
Article by Laura Conway

For the modern business the opportunities arising from social media in recruitment, business development and employee management seem endless. However, with privacy, freedom of expression and data protection issues lurking in the background and savvy employees seeking to personally benefit their careers from the use of such mediums, we are constantly being asked for advice on best practice. ACAS have recently published guidance1 for employers on how to manage the impact of social networking, in light of estimated reports that misuse of the internet and social media by workers costs Britain's economy billions of pounds every year. It therefore seems like an appropriate time to take stock and provide guidance on some of the key issues that have arisen from the rising use of social media in the workplace.


Online business networking sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook's "work for us" application allow businesses to advertise roles and by-pass recruitment consultants to headhunt and approach desirable candidates.

Whilst there is in principle no problem with this businesses still need to be wary of any non-poaching clauses they or their senior employees are subject to and consider whether unsolicited approaches to candidates could have data protection issues. In addition, social networking sites such as Facebook provide the means to screen candidates as part of the recruitment process.

ACAS warns of the risks of discrimination in the recruitment field through exclusion of certain (perhaps older?) candidates if recruitment is solely or mainly carried out online. It is also pointed out that making judgements on an employee from their social networking profile might give rise to discrimination claims - to a candidate it could seem like they were in with a chance until the potential employer logged on to their profile and saw that, for example, they are disabled, or it was apparent that they are gay. Whilst the decision might have absolutely nothing to do with this discovery, in the absence of clearly evidenced objective reasons why the application was not taken further, employers might have difficulties in defending a claim.

Employers also need to consider data protection issues. The guidance from the Information Commissioner's Office is that vetting should be used as a means of obtaining specific information, not as a means of intelligence gathering, and that candidates should be told about vetting that might take place on them and be allowed to make representations where adverse information is recorded about a candidate.

Our view is that such screening methods should be used with caution and continue to assess candidates on objective criteria - be wary of making important recruitment decisions based on someone's personal Facebook profile.

Cause for concern

The use of social media by employees can cause the business problems, whether due to use which is excessive (so called "time theft"), or inappropriate; causing reputational damage and potential abuse of intellectual property rights and confidential information.

The ACAS guidance warns against knee-jerk reactions caused by the speed and permanent nature of social media interactions, which can lead employers to treat online offences more seriously than offences caused in person. A quiet moan about your boss at the pub after work may be of no concern to the employer, but a tweet on Twitter may be closely followed and result in a disciplinary sanction. ACAS advises employers to react reasonably and ask what the likely impact on the organisation is - it may be easy to remove the posting or even post an apology without causing any damage?

We have previously reported on the case of JD Wetherspoons v Miss K C Preece (see the July update), where the Employment Tribunal found the employer acted fairly in dismissing Miss Preece for bad-mouthing customers of the pub on her Facebook page. Conversely, an Employment Tribunal held recently that an employee was unfairly dismissed for damaging her employer's reputation by posting comments in which she referred to her colleagues in derogatory terms and stated "I think I work in a nursery" (Whitham v Club 24 Ltd t/a Ventura). The Tribunal noted that the comments did not specifically make reference to clients and there was not any evidence of actual or likely harm to the relationship with the client, Volkswagen; there had also been no breach of confidence. Interestingly, the employer was also criticised for not investigating Volkswagen's views on the conduct in question.

Bullying in the cyber-playground

ACAS also warns employers to beware of cyber-bullying, for which they can be vicariously liable, and recommends updating bullying policies to cover social media. This is an area where the line between work and play can become blurred as private disputes between workers come to the attention of colleagues and the business. Employers should only become involved if there is an impact on the workplace or an employee's performance as a result.

ACAS encourages employers to monitor electronic activity such as emails and social networking sites if employees report instances of cyber bulling. Employers are reminded that monitoring should be done with the full knowledge of the employee and should only be undertaken where the benefits outweigh any possible adverse impact. A businesses' policy on monitoring should be made clear in its social media/electronic communications policy.

Businesses are also warned by ACAS about the health and safety of employees who fail to take breaks away from their desk - choosing instead to stay at the computer screen and log onto social media sites. The Guidance also highlights the addictiveness of social media which may in extreme cases require specialist help.

Using social media as an investigative tool

Social media can also prove an important investigative tool in managing HR matters, for example when an employee is off sick. If an employee's blog/site is public then an employee will find it difficult to argue that their right to privacy has been breached. The line may get blurred when an employer asks a colleague to snoop on an employee as this could damage the relationship of trust and confidence. Companies should have a clear policy on monitoring, including social media sites.

Employers should, however, remember that they still need to carry out a fair and reasonable investigation, and not take everything they see online at Face(book) value!

Protecting your brand reputation

Whilst social media can assist the rapid rise of a business through "word of mouth" advertising, it can equally cause the instantaneous downfall through a negative posting by a disgruntled employee, or perhaps leaking of confidential information or misuse of intellectual property rights.

ACAS recommends the use of a social media policy that sets out clearly what is meant by defamation and how employees are expected to protect the company or organisation's brand. Senior employees could be required to use disclaimers on blogs to state that their opinion is not that of the company or be prohibited from expressing certain views. However, ACAS warns that employers might be seen as trying to gag employees from expressing personal views if they are over-prescriptive about the use of social media channels.


An area that is ripe for litigation and not focused on in the ACAS guidance is the use of business networking sites such as LinkedIn to develop and potentially poach business contacts. By staying "LinkedIn" to clients after termination, an ex-employee can potentially inform clients where they have moved to without technically being in breach of covenants. The potential for dispute over who a contact belongs to and whether it amounts to confidential information or is in the public domain is huge. Employers should consider policies which restrict employees from adding clients to LinkedIn profiles (although this may not be conducive to business development) or require these to be deleted on termination.


The key message in the ACAS guidance is to have a clear social media policy for employees and managers setting out clear guidance on all of the areas discussed with links to disciplinary and bullying policies. The use of such a policy was a key factor in the Employment Tribunal finding in favour of the employer in Wetherspoons.

Employees should be consulted on the policy and there should be involvement, if possible, from IT specialists within the business.

Development in this area is fluid, so once drafted the policy should be kept under regular review and updated in line with best practice.


1.The ACAS guidance on social media is available at .

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.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.