Social networking sites maintain their dominance amongst a huge number of people, of all ages, throughout the world, not to mention the UK, as a method of communication and expression. Their impact on businesses is multi-fold and provide employers with issues that cannot be avoided.
A certain amount of control over employees’ use of social networking sites, Twitter, for example, is possible, but this must all be dealt with in an employee’s contract of employment, and any other documentation that governs an employee’s employment. You are within your rights as an employer to lay down rules about the use of such sites where it impacts on work and can expect that your employee’s follow these rules where they have been made known to an employee.
As a way of setting down rules, you should consider a written policy which encompasses your business’s principles on your employees’ use of Twitter. Your policy must be reasonable and not too restrictive.
It would be unreasonable, for example, to impose a blanket ban on your employees from having a Twitter account at all. What your policy can do is make your employees aware that any comments made by them on these websites about colleagues that are found to be in nature of bullying, or have the effect of creating an intimidating, humiliating environment for that colleague will not be tolerated and will be dealt with as if the comment were made at work.
This aspect of the policy is significant because it may well play a part in your defence against a vicarious liability discrimination claim, if the comments made about an employee are because of one of the protected characteristics e.g. disability, sexual orientation etc.
You can also place restrictions on employees referring to your organisation or discussing work related issues in parts of the websites where others can make easy identification of your business. You should emphasise the fact that any comment made that damages your reputation, or is likely to destroy trust and confidence between employer and employee, will be treated in the same way as if the comment were made elsewhere, and will be treated as misconduct and may be subject to disciplinary proceedings.
What is important with such a policy, or any policy, is to make sure that your employees are aware of it. Don’t hide it away in a folder where employees don’t have reasonable opportunity to see it. The best way to satisfy yourself that the employee knows about the policy is to hand out a copy of it during their induction with you at the start of employment.
From a different perspective, Twitter can be of significant use to employers because they can provide a massive marketing platform through which to reach a wider audience and generate greater publicity.
For any further clarification, please call our 24 Hour Advice Service on 0844 892 2772.