An employer can better navigate their way through the online minefield of Tweets, Facebook posts and YouTube videos with a well-drafted social media policy. It remains unclear the extent to which an employer can legitimately control or sanction an employee’s conduct on social media. Employees can now disseminate private observations to a public audience. Consequently, complaints about work, management and co-workers posted by employees on social networking sites can be damaging to your business’ brand or reputation. A social media policy is then an important tool to protect your business.

What is Social Media?

Social Media includes Facebook, Myspace, LinkedIn, Wikipedia, podcasts, forums and discussion boards such as Google groups and photo and video-sharing sites including YouTube and Flickr.

What Is a Social Media Policy?

A Social Media Policy guides your employees on the acceptable use of social media at work and home. It protects your business’ reputation and community standing and protects staff from online bullying and harassment.

Why Do I Need It?

It is increasingly common for employees to express their frustrations or displeasure with an employer or a co-worker on social media. Complaints that were once vented to friends over coffee or in the pub outside of work have turned into online postings seen by an uncontrollable number of people. Facebook posts and Tweets posted outside of work hours remain once work recommences. Social Media has now blurred the line between work and out-of-hours conduct which can lead to dismissal. It is now then important that employees are trained and educated about acceptable use, their conduct monitored and any breaches enforced.

What Should I Include In It?

A comprehensive Social Media Policy should reflect your organisation’s values and state the policies purposes or objectives. It should include as a minimum:

  • Who the policy will apply to,
  • Expected and unacceptable behaviours,
  • A disclaimer, and
  • Consequences for employees breaching the policy

Employers should also urge the responsible use of social media and provide training and accreditation for employees.

Consequences for Breaching the Social Media Policy

Your Social Media Policy should explicitly outline the risks associated with the use of social media, and the consequences for breaching the policy, including dismissal. A lawful dismissal is one where the employer can demonstrate a connection between the employee’s conduct and the employment relationship, and that:

  • May cause serious damage to the relationship between the employee and employer, or
  • Damages the employer’s interests, or
  • Is incompatible with the employee’s duties as an employee.

Fair Work Australia (‘FWA’) has held that an employee who knowingly breaches the business’ policy will have difficulty making out an argument that there is no valid reason for dismissal where:

  • the policy is both lawful and reasonable, and
  • the employer has emphasised the policy’s importance to the business, and
  • the employer has made it clear to the employees that any breach is likely to result in termination of employment

The employer should always notify the employee of the reason for their dismissal and give the employee an opportunity to respond, with a support person present if they so choose, and give consideration of the employee’s response. You should always speak with an employment lawyer before terminating an employee to ensure it is lawful.

Conclusion

A social media policy is an important tool for businesses and can assist in avoiding inappropriate social media use by employees. It is essential that your business’ social media policy clearly defines acceptable social media use and what consequences will follow if your employees breach the policy.

If you need your business’ policy drafted or included in your employee handbook, our lawyers can help. If you have any questions, please call LegalVision on 1300 544 755 and talk to us about how we can best help you.

Claudette Yazbek

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