With the advent of social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc. many businesses are increasingly seeing the value of such tools in expanding their business, branding, advertising and recruiting staff. Social Media has become a major aspect of e-communication both inside and outside the workplace in recent years.
There are however employment-related issues surrounding these popular tools and this article summarises some of the issues employers might face and the importance of having a Social Media policy.
Social Media and the Workplace
The phenomenal growth of social networking platforms and time spent using social networking applications is one reason why many businesses are reluctant to allow employees to use sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn during office hours. Give most people access to the Internet and they will spend the next hour checking their email, their Facebook profile, updating their Twitter account or their LinkedIn account.
And this doesn’t happen only once a day. Add the time spent on non work-related browsing, and it is not difficult to see that employers are faced with issues concerning productive use of work time.
At the same time, businesses are starting to appreciate that social networking has its advantages, and there are many companies that have adopted social networking as another vehicle to gain a better presence online and a wider audience.
So the employer is faced with a number of questions: What are the benefits of Social Media? What are the risks? How can I effectively manage the use of this tool within my business? How can I strike a balance?
The benefits of Social Media
- Expanding Market Research
Social networking sites give businesses a fantastic opportunity to widen their circle of contacts. Using Facebook, for example, a small business can target an audience of thousands without much effort or advertising. With a good company profile and little in terms of costs, a new market opens up, as do the opportunities to do business.
- Personal Touch
Social networks allow organisations to reach out to select groups or individuals and to target them personally. Businesses can encourage their customers to become connections or friends, offering special discounts that would be exclusive to online contacts. This personal touch is not only appreciated but may give the business access to that customer’s own network of contacts.
- Improve Your Reputation
Building strong social networks can help a business to improve its reputation with as little advertising as possible. Social networks can boost your image as thought leaders in the field and customers/contacts start to acknowledge your business as reliable and an excellent source of information/products that suit their requirements.
- Low-Cost Marketing
Once social networks have become established and people become familiar with the brand, businesses can use the sites or applications to implement marketing campaigns, announce special offers, and make important announcements and direct interested people to the specific Web sites. It is mostly free advertising, and the only cost to the business is the time and effort required to maintain the network and the official Web site.
What are the risks?
The excessive use of social media platforms can have a negative effect as employees, drawn to the immediacy of communication on these sites, become diverted from their normal day-to-day work activities.
- Company Reputation & Privileged Information
The reputations of organisations can be damaged where employees make inappropriate comments about their employer. A key issue facing many businesses is the blurring of the line between what constitutes actions in the workplace and what is considered personal. Employers need to be mindful that there are risks associated with disciplining employees who inappropriately use social media on a “personal” level.
- Unfair Dismissal Claims
There have been a number of cases before Fair Work Australia recently concerning this issue of where does the workplace stop and an employee’s personal life begin. The body of case law is gradually emerging in relation to dismissals in relation to employee online behaviour.
The Fair Work Australia case of Stutsel v Linfox Australia Pty Ltd illustrates when an employee can be disciplined for after hours use of social media. In this case an employee, a truck driver for Linfox, was dismissed for serious misconduct after he made several work-related comments on his private Facebook page that criticised his managers. The employee claimed that he had set his Facebook page with maximum privacy restrictions and thought it was somewhere he could interact privately with a select group of friends.
In its decision, Fair Work Australia sent a clear message that employees would be foolish to think they can say whatever they want online or outside work with complete immunity: “If an employee’s conduct online is likely to cause serious damage to the employment relationship or to the employer’s interests, disciplinary action, including termination, may be justified, even if the material was posted outside working hours.”
However, FWA also criticised the company for not having a detailed social media policy in place. FWA said that in the current electronic age it was “not sufficient” to not have a social media policy in place.
In this case, FWA determined that the employee’s termination was not for a valid reason and ordered that he be reinstated. This decision was confirmed in subsequent appeals.
- Recruitment Practices, Privacy and Discrimination
Employers sometimes do searches of social media sites for information about job applicants as part of the screening process. There are traps associated with such practices and it is important employers are aware of the issues that can arise when using information about candidates that is not related to the job.
In Australia, the National Privacy Principles currently do not apply to current employees, but they do apply to prospective employees. Currently there is no law against using information that is freely available on the Internet to help you assess a candidate for a job, however you need to be careful that the use of the information you obtain by Facebook etc is not used in a discriminatory manner.
There are also issues with not disclosing to applicants information that has been collected from a personal Social Media site. People with Facebook and LinkedIn etc are able to monitor who has looked at their content on those sites, if they have installed the settings that allow this. An employer could expect to be asked by a job applicant why their Social Media site has been accessed and ask to see all the information that has been collected on them.
It also raises the issue of how fair are your recruitment practices? Are you assessing candidates on the same terms?
How to effectively manage Social Media at your workplace
The first step in dealing with the risks of inappropriate social media use at your workplace is to have a good policy in place. Clearly communicated guidelines on the use of social media at both the workplace and out of hours are most important. These should outline employee responsibilities including in relation to bullying and harassment and confidentiality.
Employees are also likely to need education and training in the appropriate use of social media. Employees may not be aware how their actions online can cause security issues for your company.
You should also review your policies in relation to the use of the Internet at work. Monitoring of all Web activity is important, and employees should be aware that their actions are being recorded and that failure to adhere to company policy can result in disciplinary action and/or dismissal.
It would also be wise to review how recruitment decisions are made and ensure all managers are educated on the implications of using social media sites in making employment decisions.