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Ask the Expert: Helen Watson

5th November, 2014

Q: As an employer, what risks does social media pose to my business?

A: From an employer’s perspective there are 7 key risks:

1. Discrimination: Employers can be held vicariously liable for discriminatory acts carried out by their employees. Liability may arise where derogatory comments are made by an employee on their blog or social media site about a colleague. You will need to demonstrate that you have taken all reasonable practicable steps to prevent such harassment.

2. Confidential Information: There is a potential risk that employees may post confidential information online. Furthermore, LinkedIn and similar business networking sites may create problems for employers because they effectively create a list of business contacts which may include confidential clients and customers.

3. Recruitment: The use of social media in recruitment is not unlawful unless it is used to discriminate. Given the types of information an employer may find on social media sites, such as an individual’s sexuality and religion, a claim for discrimination is a real prospect if that information is used to reject a candidate.

4. Data Protection: If you are processing employees’ personal data, you must do so fairly and lawfully. You must also register with the Information Commissioner’s Office as a Data Controller.

5. Loss of Productivity: Access to social media on the employer’s equipment and/or in employer’s time can lead to reduced productivity. Employers should set clear parameters if employees are allowed access to social media during work.

6. Loss of Reputation: Employees posting derogatory comments on social media sites will be a main concern for employers as it could affect their reputation. Make it clear in your policies and training materials that protecting the business’ image is a core value and that derogatory comments are likely to constitute gross misconduct.

7. Privacy: The Human Rights Act 1998 states that everyone has a right to respect for their private and family life, their home and their correspondence. The Act also states that everyone has the right to freedom of expression. Dismissing an employee in contravention of those rights could be disproportionate and therefore unfair.

Q: So how can I protect my business from these risks?

A: You may wish to impose an outright ban on accessing social media sites at work. However, this may be unpopular and the business may not benefit from the known advantages of social media. It may also be difficult to attract and retain staff who already utilise it.

Alternatively, you may wish to allow access, but remind employees that what they post is public and consequences may result from their behaviour online.

Whatever you decide to do, businesses should seek specific legal advice to create a comprehensive social media policy, consistent with your anti-harassment policy, anti-bullying policy and disciplinary rules, to ensure that your business is adequately protected.

At Aaron & Partners we have the legal knowledge and expertise to guide you through the minefield of social media. We can provide not only the social media policy but also full social media training for staff, from board members down through the entire firm.

For a copy of our social media guide for you and your business please contact Helen Watson on 01244 405565 or email [email protected]

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