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The dangers your employees and social media pose to your business

25th June, 2013

In 2006, the Trades Union Congress 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 recently in the case of Sally Bercow, where an allegedly innocent retweet has 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 employees are now regularly blogging, tweeting and using LinkedIn, the distinction between their work and personal lives is becoming increasingly blurred and the importance of managing this relationship is more fundamental than ever.

There is no doubt that social media can play a positive role in developing your business and ensuring that your business’s 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.

However, 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 the obligations and responsibilities on your employees, along with the all important consequences of non-compliance.

Kent Police faced potential damage to their reputation when complaints were made about tweets written by their first and newly-appointed youth police and crime commissioner. 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.

Paul Bennett, partner in the employment team at Aaron & Partners LLP, 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. He is hoping that recent events will make employers think more carefully about how they manage its employees and their use of social media. Paul has also 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].

[NB: please also look out for details of an upcoming event planned for autumn 2013, at which Paul Bennett will use his expertise in the area of social media to update employers on how best to manage their employees].

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