RSS FeedRSS Feed

The dangers of social mediaBy: Sarah Sherratt

Social MediaDoes your business use social media? The chances are it does or intends to. But have you stopped to consider the dangers?

The benefits of social media are well publicised. Many employers have instructed their employees to use it, to sign up to LinkedIn and tweet about their activities, both in and out of work. Social media is often seen as more relaxed than traditional forms of communication such as articles in the local paper or mailshots, with individuals able to express their views. In all likelihood, it’s only a few words in a Twitter post or blog, or a short clip on You Tube, all intended to raise awareness of your business.

But who is responsible for deciding and uploading the content? Does your business have one person authorised to publish content, or do employees have their own accounts and what do they say about their work? What is appropriate to publish and how do you control it? What happens if an employee posts something, which you consider brings the business’ reputation into question? If the business’ reputation is diminished through inappropriate online comments, what can the employer do?

Social media has the potential to land your business in hot water because employees could potentially post whatever they like, without your knowledge and approval.

Take a few examples.

  • The Somerfield Stores’ manager who uploaded a video to You Tube of colleagues fighting in a warehouse with some plastic bags.
  • The JD Wetherspoon’s employee who posted rude and abusive comments about some difficult customers, wrongly thinking that only immediate friends could see.
  • The Crown Prosecution Service employee who became “friends” with a defendant on Facebook.
  • The Virgin cabin crew members who called their passengers “chavs” and criticised Virgin’s approach to safety.
  • The DVLA employee who criticised the employer’s customer service record on Facebook.

It is vital that businesses set the parameters when it comes to social media and that online misconduct is treated appropriately as with any other misconduct. The employer still has to follow a fair process in any disciplinary matter, whether that results in dismissal or not. Just because an inappropriate comment has been made, the conclusion is not necessarily that an employee should be dismissed.

It is important for employers to remember that whilst misconduct is a potentially fair reason to dismiss an employee, the damage may already have been done, so disciplining somebody after the event might not solve the problem. A clear policy on the business’ expectations is a must to try and prevent the problem arising. However, it is equally important that employees are aware what it means. The most beautifully crafted policy in the world is no use unless it is understood and applied!

So what should a social media policy contain?

  • A summary of the business’ attitude towards social media. A blanket ban on social media is likely to be too draconian.
  • Whether employees can name the business, as their employer or otherwise. Where inclusion of the employer's name is appropriate (for example, on LinkedIn), employees need to be aware that this raises the risk to the business if any derogatory comments are made about the business, colleagues, clients or customers, whether they are named personally or not.
  • Restrictions on accessing social media during working hours or on the business’ IT systems.
  • A warning that social media is not always private – comments are in the public domain and privacy settings need to be tight and regularly reviewed.
  • An instruction to employees to ensure that personal views expressed on social media are clearly marked as not being the views of the business. This might not be sufficient to protect the business depending on the view put forward, but it would certainly assist in distancing the business from it.
  • Guidelines for using social media sites in a business context, including what information is considered to be confidential and how it should be protected.
  • A prohibition on bullying, harassing or otherwise discriminating against other employees through social media.
  • Cross-references to other relevant policies of the employer, such as disciplinary rules, data protection and equal opportunities policies.
  • An explanation of the types of monitoring that the employer will undertake in relation to the use of social media by its employees.
  • Examples of the kinds of posts that are acceptable and not acceptable.
  • A warning that breaches of the social media policy can lead to disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal, whether the breaches stem from comments made in or out of working hours.

A social media policy cannot stop inappropriate comments from being published. However, it sets down the expectations of the employer and provides a framework for dealing with any incidences which might arise, allowing the employer to nip any issues in the bud.

So what should you do? Here are my top five tips:

  1. Have a social media policy encompassing the above points.
  2. Make sure all of your employees and managers know about it.
  3. Review it regularly. Is it up to date?
  4. Encourage employees to report any breaches of the policy.
  5. Don’t overreact to minor breaches – educate instead.

About the author

Sarah Sherratt of PardoesSarah Sherratt is a Solicitor with Pardoes Solicitors in Taunton.

Features December 2013

Click here for more features...

Commercial Property Events

Have you any commercial property events you'd like to tell us about? It could be networking, exhibitions, seminars, industry lunches or sporting fixtures. We will list them for free. Just email with the following details: Event name, date, time, venue, cost, booking info and a brief description of the event.

Commercial Property Jobs

To list your property job vacancies on Property News. Email:

Sign up to our free e-alerts for all your property news and views.
Follow Property News on Facebook Follow Property News on Twitter Follow Property News on Google+ Follow Property News on Linkedin Property News RSS Feed