Prevent Social Networking problems in the Workplace

Peninsula Team

June 24 2011

While your employees are actually ‘on the clock’ they are being paid to work and therefore, should not be using social networking websites. ‘During the working day’ is a hard term to implement as this will include times when your staff have time to themselves, such as during breaks or at lunch time. You cannot literally dictate their free time, for instance while workers are on lunch break, but you can restrict their use of company resources.

Your IT systems are a business tool and your IT policy should be clear and set out what your staff members can use the equipment for and the times at which they can do so. Your first port of call, therefore, needs to be to review your policy and check what it says about using the internet. You then need to look at the times during which your staff are accessing these sites to determine the nature of the problem. If your staff are using the internet in breach of the policy then that is obviously a disciplinary matter, which is something your policy should clearly state. Similarly, your staff have an obligation to ensure their time and energy at work is devoted to the needs of the business. If they are accessing social networking sites when they should be working, then they are in breach of this duty and again this is a disciplinary matter.

Companies generally restrict access to social networking sites because of the potential exposure to cyber threats and viruses in addition to putting a drain on network resources. If there is a threat then inform all staff that they will not be allowed further access to these sites because of the risk to the systems. When you inform your staff of the restrictions and the reasons for it also you should set out that this is a management instruction and anyone who breaks the IT policy on this matter will be the subject of disciplinary proceedings.

You cannot control what your staff write on their own web space outside of work time and normally any actions by your staff outside of work you have no say in. However, you can remind all staff that they have an obligation not to bring the company into disrepute and any comments that are posted in the public domain are subject to this obligation. Make it clear in your updated IT policy that any negative comments made in the public domain about the company will be subject to the disciplinary procedure. You must be clear about your definition of “negative” and you cannot define this too broadly. Inform your staff that in addition to disciplinary action, any derogatory comments posted in the public domain can be subject to libel action in the County Court.

For more information on the use of social networks in the workplace please contact Peninsula’s 24/7 Advice Service on 0844 892 2772.

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