Over 15.8 million Australians are on social media, and 57% of them are active on social media at least once a day. Whether or not your business has a social media presence, it’s likely your employees do. With this in mind, it’s important you keep up to date with current trends and potential issues relating to social media use by your business and your employees. As we enter 2017, here’s what employers and employees should understand about social media in the workplace.
For the employer
1. Have a robust, up-to-date social media policy and social media compliance training
As social media continues to evolve, be sure to keep your workplace policies up to date. A robust social media policy should cover, at a minimum, what constitutes proper and improper use of social media by employees, and what disciplinary action may be taken as a result of improper use. Once your social media policy has been successfully updated, ensure all new and existing staff have undertaken social media compliance training and understand the policy – including any recent changes. There have been many cases in the past few years where an employer’s decision to dismiss an employee for inappropriate social media use was found to be justified because they had an existing social media policy and compliance training, so don’t let it lapse or become irrelevant.
2. Understand the boundaries of your social media policy and how it is enforced
A number of cases in the past year have validated employee dismissal as a result of improper social media use, even when the employee used social media out of hours or did not publicly list their employer on their social media profile. As an employer, it’s important to make clear when and where you consider your employees’ activity on social media to impact the business. For instance, Australian debt collection company Credit Corp dismissed an employee for posting negative comments on a client’s Facebook page, even though the employee was on leave and did not publicly list his occupation or the business’s name on his profile. In this case, the employee was found to have been fairly dismissed because of the damage the posts did to his employer’s reputation – the employee’s location and profile information did not tip the balance.
3. Be clear on how to use social media for job screening purposes
Using social media to understand more about a potential employee can be a useful tool; for instance, LinkedIn is a social media platform where individuals can list relevant skills, experience and connections that may display their suitability in a chosen position or career. However, it is important to take care not to use this information inappropriately, as anti-discrimination laws also apply to information employers find online. This means it is unlawful to, for example, hire or not hire a person based on their age, race, marital status, political opinion, pregnancy or sexuality. So even if a candidate’s Facebook profile indicates a factor they do not reveal when applying for a job with your business, this information cannot be used in a discriminatory manner.
4. Use social media to drive employee advocacy
On the flipside, social media can be a powerful driver for the brand and culture of your business. Employee social media advocacy programs encourage staff to share updates about the business on their individual social media accounts, increasing the business’s digital presence and content reach. These programs have already grown by 191% since 2013 and are continuing to develop as businesses become more social-media savvy. Instead of relying on your business social media accounts to do all the work, embrace social media as a valuable channel for employee engagement, and provide content your employees will want to celebrate and share with their friends.
For the employee
1. Be aware and keep informed about your obligations under your work contract and workplace policies
Your employment agreement probably refers to workplace policies that set out your obligations in relation to social media. Most employers have these types of policies, so if you can’t recall this information or skimmed over it in your initial onboarding, take the time now to review your contract and check with your employer if any details have been updated. Review any changes or updates to the policy thoroughly and ask your employer questions about anything you’re not sure about.
2. Improper social media use out of hours can still be grounds for disciplinary action
As mentioned earlier, many recent cases have demonstrated that what you say and do online outside of work hours can still amount to a breach of your employer’s social media policy in some cases. In the case of the employee dismissed by Credit Corp for posting derogatory Facebook comments, the tribunal found that the fact the employee made the comments in his own time was not relevant, as it was the effect and impact of those comments on CreditCorp and its employees that mattered. Similarly, Meriton Apartments dismissed an employee who had made derogatory comments towards writer Clementine Ford on her public profile. Although these comments were also made out-of-hours it had the ability to bring the employer into disrepute, particularly as he had identified his employer on his social media profile.
3. If you wouldn’t want it publicly shared, keep it private
Remember that social media has a global reach; you don’t have to list your occupation or add colleagues from work to find information from your online life is making it back to your employer. In the case where Clementine Ford was targeted, Ford directed the employer’s attention to the employee’s comment directly as well as sharing it with her 80,000 followers, gaining a large amount of public attention. In the CreditCorp case, the dismissed employee claimed he did not intend for his posts to be publicly accessible and didn’t understand how Facebook’s privacy settings worked, but this defence was found to be insufficient by the tribunal.
4. Use your common sense
At the end of the day, if you have something to say that may cause offence to your co-workers, employer or clients, publishing it on a global platform where posts can be saved and shared even if you remove it is probably not a good idea. As an emerging area, the laws and considerations around social media and its use in the workplace will continue to evolve, so the soundest risk management strategy is to refrain from making comments that could discredit you or damage your employer, on social media or otherwise.
About the author
Sarah Mateljan is the co-founder of CourseGenius, the world’s simplest online training platform. CourseGenius allows small to medium enterprises to easily author and deliver their own custom training programs. The company recently launched a suite of online compliance courses for SMEs, including Work Health & Safety, Bullying & Harassment, and Social Media.