There Are No Secrets with Social Networking

Peninsula Team

September 09 2009

An increasing area of contention in the workplace surrounds what control an employer has, or what action they can take, in relation to an employees activities outside of work. The Peninsula Advice Service is available to help you decide the best course of action to take. Just call 0844 892 2772 and one of our trained advisors will be waiting to help.

Employers have to be aware of any activities carried out by members of their workforce that can affect its standing, reputation or impact on the working environment. Employees often believe that actions or comments made outside of work can not affect their employment; but they are wrong and with the increased use of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, many employees are risking their job with the comments that they make.

Employers can get involved when an employee’s actions impact on the working relationship. This can be anything from a fight at a work’s party to cyber bullying of one employee by another. It is a common misconception of employees that what happens outside of work stays outside of work.

There is a tendency for individuals to think of comments on social networking sites as being similar to having a conversation with friends.  In reality, making a posting on a social networking site is similar to sticking the comment up on a notice board.  When something is written down in the public domain it cannot be considered a private comment and if the company has sight of it they can act on it and begin disciplinary procedures if they believe it to be appropriate.

With the growth of activities such as social networking it is worth employers setting out some written guidance to employees setting out that actions occurring outside of work can be acted upon by the employer so that individuals can be aware of the possible consequences of their activities outside of work.

Any guidance should set out the general areas and reasons why the company will act so that employees have a reasonable chance of understanding the possible consequences of their actions. These will normally fall under the following general headings, although they may cover a number of them:

Health and safety will most commonly be concerned with issues such as drink or drug offences outside of work. Another issue will be any other work the employee carries out for another employer or on their own behalf. Although there may be not clauses in the contract that prevent other work, an employer does have a duty to monitor working time so an employee could be required to provide details of their hours of work to ensure that they are not breaching the working time regulations.

When it comes to bullying and harassment, any company policies should make clear that it is the effect of the bullying, not its time or location, that is relevant. The issue is whether or not the employee is creating a degrading, intimidating or hostile environment in the workplace or if their activities outside of work result in problems within work.

Bringing the company into disrepute can cover a wide range of issues but a company should stress that this will include posting derogatory comments about the company or its employees on websites.

Postings to websites throughout the working day will show that an employee is not devoting their time and energy to their work which could have significant implications if that employee is not completing their work or is stating that they need to work overtime to ensure the work is done. An employee found to be spending time on social networking sites and declaring that time as work for which they are entitled to be paid could be viewed as falsifying time sheets and subject to dismissal for attempted fraud.

Employees need to understand that just because something happens outside of work does not mean that their work will be unaffected. Any activities that affect the company, whether it be a fight at a client’s premises or humiliation of an individual in cyberspace, can be acted on by the employer.

If you have a problem with the way in which your employees use social networking websites, contact the Peninsula Advice Service on 0844 892 2772 and we will be able to advise the best course of action for your business.

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