Businesses have long recognised the benefits of social media in strengthening their brand awareness. Sites such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are are all regarded as useful business tools, assisting in attracting and retaining audiences. Social Media and online business networking also hold many advantages for employees, allowing them to strengthen their contacts and broaden their professional circles.

Here are five aspects of social media businesses should consider to ensure they are well-prepared in this developing area of employment law.

  1. Social Media Policy – Having a robust and clearly communicated Social Media Policy is crucial in ensuring you and your staff have a clear understanding about social media and your company’s rules. Businesses should also ensure other related policies and procedures such as disciplinary rules and anti-harassment policies work alongside these.
  2. Data ownership – The wealth of digital communications in which employees engage inevitably leads to the collation of data. Smart phones intermingle personal contacts with professional contacts, creating a question over who owns such contacts or data. To ensure maximum protection, businesses should have their contracts of employment reviewed and amended if necessary with a view to the employer retaining ownership and having exclusive rights over such data.
  3. Social networking solicitation – Social media sites offer the prospect of re-establishing contacts with relative ease. For example, when updating a LinkedIn profile a departing employees’ connections will be automatically notified of the name of their new employer – who could be a competitor! Businesses should have their contracts of employment, in particular post-termination restrictions, reviewed and amended if necessary to deal with such eventualities.
  4. Cyber bullying/harassment – Remarks made on social media sites can have serious consequences on client relations or may create a hostile or intimidating work environment for a co-employee. Employers should be aware that they may be found vicariously responsible for any harassment or bullying behaviour, whether online or offline. Having a strong stance against such issues and acting swiftly is advisable although beware of backlash in the form of human rights claims, such as freedom of expression and right to private life.
  5. Recruitment – Be aware that social media issues begin even before the employment relationship starts during the recruitment process. If undertaking web based searches on potential employees, be aware of potential Data Protection issues. Information, even if posted in the digital world, may well be considered as ‘personal data’. Data protection guidance recommends candidates are notified of such searches!

Employment and HR issues arising from matters involving social media can quickly escalate. Bearing in mind social networks can extend to millions, such issues have the potential be highly damaging to a business and its owners. It is crucial employers adopt a proactive approach; obtain advice on this developing area of law and put the necessary mechanisms in place to safeguard their business.

Farleys Solicitors specialist Employment Law and HR team can provide support, guidance and training on all of these social media issues and have experience drafting bespoke contractual provisions and Social Media policies. For further information please contact us.