Employers beware the risks of social media in the workplace

07th October 2013

Once the domain of teenagers and celebrities, social media is now very much mainstream and increasingly embraced by business.

The opportunity to communicate with clients in real time, build a brand personality and create profiles around key staff members are all high on the agenda for forward thinking businesses and Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook have become useful tools to establish relationships with customers and other businesses.

It all sounds like a great opportunity, and managed well it is. Used properly, it can help you become an integral part of the online community and can allow you to promote your products and services at very little cost. 

But as much as social media is a tool for promoting the good, it can also be used to air publicly – on a worldwide scale – the bad and this throwing up all manner of issues for companies.

Many organisations are in fear over how employees sharing opinions might negatively affect their reputation and are unsure how to set standards of behavior for the use of social media.

Facebook now has over 900 million users, Linked In over 150 million users and on average, 200 million tweets are sent every day! The audience is huge and many businesses are looking carefully at the impact of this new connectivity in the legal sense.

Many organisations use disclaimers stating that the views of the blogger are not necessarily the views of the company but whilst disclaimers are often a lawyer’s best friend, in this case they can be a company’s silent assassin.

Firstly, in using a disclaimer you are announcing to the world that you don’t know your employees well enough to trust them to speak on behalf of the company. 

Secondly, you can’t put voiced opinions in a vacuum however hard you try.

Of course we all value our freedom to speak, give opinions and share thoughts. Indeed that right is also enshrined in legislation but as an employer you have to be aware of the potential for disgruntled employees – and customers – taking off into cyber space with complaints and opinions, and be ready to act if necessary.

Businesses need to ask themselves - Do we monitor social media for mentions of our organisation? Do we have an understandable and well thought through staff social media policy? Are all staff aware of it and the implications of breaching it?

The key to managing – and mitigating any issues is to have a social media policy that fits your business. The policy should clearly set out what is and is not appropriate for business and personal usage, together with what the repercussions may be, stating what actions would lead to disciplinary action, or may even be considered, gross misconduct. It should also focus on potential damage to the business's reputation or that of its customers, and other commercial partners. You may already have policies on email and internet usage, which can be expanded to include this.

Not only should a social media policy help protect organisations against liability it should also give clear guidelines for employees, and employees should be trained on the rules – if they don’t know what they are, they won’t know if they’re breaking them.

With many companies yet to introduce these policies, lawyers are finding themselves advising clients more and more frequently on employees’ misuse of social networking sites and there are many instances of staff having been dismissed for misuse of social media sites where it is deemed that the employee has brought the organisation into disrepute in some way. We certainly expect to see more cases hitting the headlines in the future.

The use of social media is growing and in this digital era of internet engagement your social media policy may just be the most important employment policy you issue so act now and make sure your businesses is protected.


For more information contact our Employment team on 0800 590 019 or meet the team here. Alternatively you can submit your enquiry via the website and a member of the team will contact you at a time to suit you.