With over 15 million Australian’s using Facebook, and 9 million using Instagram, it’s safe to say that social media has become a powerful distraction both inside and outside the workplace. Whether it’s taking snaps of our morning breakfast, or reminiscing with a throwback Thursday, most of us are sharing some part of our daily lives with our social media followers.

Many businesses also use social media platforms as a marketing tool, promoting goods and services to thousands of consumers with the click of a button.

With social media slowly taking over as the number one online activity, it’s a perfect time for us to look at an employer’s limits of control over their employees’ use of social media.

Set your expectations

The best (and easiest) way for an employer to set expectations for social media use, is to have a clear and comprehensive social media policy. A social media policy should say when (or if) social media use is allowed, and define what conduct is acceptable when an employee uses social media at work (and, in some situations, at home).

A good social media policy sets clear boundaries, with provisions that don’t just cover conduct in the workplace but also out-of-hours conduct.

A social media policy should also clearly state the consequences of breaching the policy, leaving no doubt that breaches may result in disciplinary action, even termination of employment.

The absence of a social media policy can lead to situations that have a negative effect on a business or cause damage to its reputation. Without a social media policy in place, an employer could face problems when disciplining employees for inappropriate conduct or posts as the question of ‘what policy have they not acted within the limits of? may arise.

What are Social Media Platforms?

There’s an ever-increasing number of social media applications. The following list provides a few examples:

  • Social networking sites e.g. Facebook, Google Plus, LinkedIn
  • Video and photo-sharing sites e.g. Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube
  • Micro-blogging sites e.g. Twitter, Tumblr
  • Online forums

Social media policies shouldn’t be limited to websites, though, but should include other electronic applications such as mobile phones, tablets and smartwatches.

Creating a Social Media Policy

A corporate social media policy should define how an employee presents themselves as a representative of the company, as well as the employee’s use of social media (in relation to the company) in a personal setting.

To protect its reputation, a business may wish to include a provision prohibiting employees from sharing or posting photos of themselves wearing company uniform. Likewise, the business could prohibit posts that show the company logo or mention the company’s name or products.

Social media policies for employees should set out how an employee is allowed to use social media in the workplace. Will employees be able to use social media during work hours and, if they are, are they able to access their applications on company equipment? These are important considerations when enforcing the provisions within the policy when social media is misused at work.

Can social media outside work hours lead to disciplinary action within the workplace?

While your initial thoughts might be “no”, there are circumstances where employees can be held accountable for online actions outside work hours. Ask yourself:

  • Has the online conduct affected or damaged the relationship between the employer and employee? This includes the employee’s relationship with other employees, including identifying and making inappropriate online comments about co-workers.
  • Has the conduct affected the employee’s work performance?
  • Has the conduct affected the interests of the employer? This includes damage to brand or reputation. Has the employee identified the employer on their social media account or disclosed any confidential information? Has the employee made disparaging or unfavourable comments online about the employer or other employees?

If you were able to answer “yes” to any of the above questions, you would be able to investigate the out-of-hours conduct and potentially discipline your employees in line with your code of conduct or social media policy.

Corporate Social Media Policy

With social media a common tool for marketing departments, it’s important for businesses to have a corporate social media policy that regulates all content produced in the image of the company. This policy should include a detailed list of what constitutes appropriate content when published under the company’s name. Failing to regulate the type of content that’s published on corporate social media platforms opens the door for the kind of employee misuse that could severely damage a company’s reputation.

As Commissioner Bissett said in the 2010 case of Fitzgerald v Smith t/as Escape Hair Design: “It would be foolish of employees to think they may say as they wish on their Facebook page with total immunity from any consequences.”

For more information on social media use during and outside work times, clients should contact the HR Assured team. If you’d like more information about the benefits of becoming an HR Assured client contact us today for an informal chat.