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Managing the dangers your employees and social media pose to your business

27th September, 2013

Social media – an accident waiting to happen?

We tend to perceive this as a new issue. However, back in 2006, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) described Facebook’s 3.5 million users as “HR accidents waiting to happen”, and it is safe to say that the consequences of social media is never far from the news.

The dangers of social media have been highlighted again this year in the case of Sally Bercow, where an allegedly innocent retweet led to her facing a libel trial. In the wake of Drummer Lee Rigby’s murder, arrests have also been made on suspicion of inciting racial or religious hatred after comments were posted on social media sites. Furthermore, 20 year-old Azhar Ahmed was convicted of similar offences in September 2012.

As more employees are now regularly blogging, tweeting and using LinkedIn, for work and in their personal lives the distinction between their work and personal lives is becoming increasingly blurred and the importance of managing this relationship is more fundamental than ever.

The issue for businesses and employers is that social media might include employment law issues (discrimination, harassment), civil law (defamation and misuse of confidential information) and criminal matters (with employees using their access to breach the criminal law).

How do you harness the good of social media?

There is no doubt that social media can play a positive role in developing your business and ensuring that your business’ image reaches the public domain. It can also be used as a tool to improve internal and external information sharing, be a useful aid in gaining information about recruitment and also serve as evidence, where necessary, in cases and for legal liabilities.

The most compelling argument for social media within businesses is using it to generate new clients, new contacts and new income streams for the business. These huge positives need to be safeguarded against the risks that exist. In 2010 we secured substantive work through Twitter with clients engaging with one of our solicitors first by following his tweets on a topic and then instructing us of a large piece of work in the same area.

How do you manage the risks of social media?

As well as the many benefits that social media can bring, there are a number of risks where it is used incorrectly; the disclosure of confidential information, the potential for claims of discrimination or harassment, potential damage to your reputation and potential loss of business or business opportunities. Employers need to carefully weigh up the commercial benefits of social media against the dangers it can pose to their business; prevention and protection is key.

One way in which these risks can be managed is through the implementation of and training for a relevant social media policy which sets out your employees’ obligations and responsibilities, along with the all important consequences of non-compliance.

Kent Police faced potential damage after tweets came to light that had been written by their first and newly-appointed youth police and crime commissioner prior to her appointment. The tweets, which were not vetted by Kent Police during the recruitment process, allegedly contained violent, racial and anti-gay comments, and ultimately resulted in the young commissioner’s resignation. This highlights the importance of your social media policy being in operation throughout recruitment.

Tips on managing social media

Paul Bennett, Partner in the Employment Team at Aaron & Partners, has published a number of articles on the topic of social media, in publications such as Private Client Adviser and The Hub. He has also been interviewed by BBC radio and by the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers. Paul is hoping that recent events will make employers think more carefully about how they manage their employees and their use of social media.

Recent cases Paul has advised on include a manager describing an employee on social media as a “Lazy P8&!k” and “skiving B£$%^&d” leading to a grievance being raised by the employee (and his colleagues) and a disciplinary hearing occurring.

Paul’s top tips include:

1. Assess the risks for your business – ask an expert for advice;
2. Develop and maintain a Social Media Policy that works for your business.;
3. Train your staff – ensure they are aware of what is and isn’t acceptable;
4. Review the changing nature of social media at least every 6 months.

Watch what you post!

The issues in social media legal cases often seem absurd because people assume only their “friends” are reading their posts – whether intimate, offensive or just plain dull.

As the newly appointed Editor of Newsnight found out recently, to his cost after describing a Labour spokesman as “Boring!”, the lines between private and public social media often cross over each other.

Aaron & Partners offers social media training to all members of staff, from board members down through the entire firm. Paul has provided bespoke training on social media to football clubs, sports disciplinary panels, firms and regional CIPD branches.

For further information or advice, please contact Paul Bennett on 01743 453685 or send an email to [email protected].


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