More and more businesses are making the most of the free advertising that they get from their employees’ social media. It has become increasingly common for employers to request that their staff promote the business’ content through ‘shares’, comments, tweets or posts, or any other promotional activity that will result in more brand exposure for their products and services. This development highlights the importance of employee handbooks. An employee handbook is a guide for employees that details the expectations and regulations of employees’ workplace behaviour. An employment lawyer usually drafts the employee handbook.

What are the risks?

While this may be an affordable and even effective aspect of any business’ marketing strategy, it does not come without its own risks. In particular, it can be financially risky, and potentially have a negative impact on the reputation of the business, which is why employee handbooks are extremely valuable in the long run.

  • Less productive work – Encouraging social media interaction from employees can be a slippery slope that leads to employees not managing their time in the most productive way possible. Make sure you have appropriate workplace policies in place to ensure that all employees are made fully aware of the acceptable level of social media engagement that is permitted whilst at work. Have your employment lawyer draft these policies into an Internet use policy, as well as into the employment contracts of each employee.
  • Inadvertently posting negative comments – Failing to have the appropriate regulations inserted into the employment contracts and policies by an employment lawyer can result in employees inadvertently or purposefully bad-mouthing your other businesses. This can be hugely damaging to your business’ reputation, and has the potential for resulting in defamation claims against your business. To make things worse, if the comments are damaging to a competitor, it may result in anti-competitive behaviour claims, which can result in large legal costs. Employee handbooks can account for this kind of behaviour.
  • Who owns what when employees leave? – It is a huge risk to employers when ex-employees’ social media accounts contain confidential business information, such as client numbers and details, and the employees continue to communicate with these clients, perhaps even do business with them. Your employment lawyer should account for these risks by inserting an intellectual property clause into the employment contracts and employee handbook that states that all intellectual property, at the termination of employment, will remain the property of the employer. If left unchecked, this can easily result in litigation due to the complexity of the ownership issues. While in most cases it is understood that client lists remain the property of the employer following termination of the employment relationship, the lines between ownership of social media accounts are blurry at best, such as when the client list being claimed is a list of followers on the employee’s social media accounts.
  • Bad-mouthing your own company – It isn’t hard to imagine employees having an argument with their boss and then resorting to social media to vent their frustrations about the company. This can lead to employers wanting to terminate their employees’ employment contracts. This area is seldom dealt with in the Courts, so make sure you consult your employment lawyer before you fire an employee for this kind of behaviour.

How to avoid these problems

Given the paucity of case law relating to these types of scenarios, it can be difficult knowing what the best approach to protecting your business might be.

Here are a few tips:

a)    Have a Social Media/Internet Use policy in place. Without these, it could be difficult if you wish to terminate an employee for inappropriate use of social media;

b)    Make sure there is a clause about ‘acceptable use’ that clarifies the expectations in regards to using social media at work;

c)    In the employment contracts there should to be a clause about ownership of social media accounts that are utilized to market the business, and their forfeiture upon termination of the employment relationship;

d)    Make the employees are aware of any rules that your business has surrounding the use of social media in the course of employment by implementing training programs and maintaining good communication with staff.

Conclusion

To speak with an employment lawyer about drafting or reviewing your employment contracts or employee handbook, contact LegalVision on 1300 544 755. Our team of employment lawyers have extensive experience in assisting small and medium-sized businesses in getting their employee-related documents in order.

Priscilla Ng

Next Steps

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