The news seems to be awash with stories about employees being dismissed for their behaviour on social media and online.

This has perhaps best been highlighted by the actions of some employers following inappropriate and racist comments made by employees following the EURO 2020 final.

The esteem in which many companies are held is often dictated by their staff and harmful comments that can be associated with a particular brand or business can have a big impact on a firm’s reputation.

In many of these cases, employers that have acted have been able to do so because they had a robust social media policy in place.

Given the attention that this issue has had and the importance of social media in our everyday lives, here are some tips for drafting a robust social media policy:

  • Start by outlining the purpose of your policy in regards to your business, its image and marketing.
  • Prohibit the sharing of confidential and proprietary information.
  • Make staff responsible for their online content and actions, whether in or out of work.
  • Employees should exercise good judgment and be prepared to deal with the consequences of inappropriate actions or statements online.
  • If working in an official social media role or if representing the company online, users should identify themselves by their name, position and company.
  • If the account is not being used for commercial purposes, recommend that employees’ connection to the business is not revealed – creating a barrier between personal and business life.
  • Consider how social media can affect productivity. Make sure employees strike a fair balance depending on their role.
  • If social media isn’t essential then include clauses that prohibit the use of platforms during work hours.  
  • Be precise on what is and isn’t permitted, but try and keep the policy simple so that it can’t be misinterpreted or misunderstood.

Careful considerations

While employers may be keen to monitor and manage their staff’s online activities, they should be aware that the Human Rights Act 1998 provides a ‘right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence.

This is supported by case law, which has found that employees have a reasonable expectation of privacy when it comes to separating their private and work lives.

Employers also need to be aware of the implications of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, which states that an employer can only monitor or record communications via a company’s network, if:

  • There is reasonable belief of consent on the part of the sender and recipient; or
  • The employer does not have consent but is acting to protect their business, comply with financial regulations or prevent crime.

Given the importance of social media in many of our work and personal lives, employers must have effective policies in place. By clearly outlining the rules regarding digital communications and social media it may be easier for employers to take action where inappropriate behaviour is brought to their attention.

If you run into any HR issues related to social media or would like to create a bespoke policy, please feel free to contact us