More employers are blocking staff access to social media sites than ever before amid security fears, but one expert is advising businesses to take proactive steps to introduce online usage policies for employees so as not to miss out on the potential business benefits.
Employment Partner at law firm Challinors, Simon Bond, comments: “Market research confirms the continued rise in the use of the internet in our daily lives – more than 70 percent of the UK population uses the internet every day, 61 percent use it in the workplace and 49 percent of PC users engage in social media, particularly Linkedin and Facebook.
“A recent survey by ACAS found that 55 percent of workers are using social media sites in the workplace, whilst other research confirms that 45 percent of FTSE100 companies have an official Twitter account, 25 percent have an official Facebook page, 39 percent a YouTube channel, and 12 percent a corporate blog*. Whilst Linkedin has in the region of 135 million registered users worldwide.
“When used strategically, the internet and social media can support recruitment and reputation management strategies, and help a business’ visibility and how it connects with the outside world. The best advice is for employers to put in place clauses and policies over the do’s and don’ts for employees about how and when they use social media in the workplace.
“Social media provides a comprehensive information source for companies and is frequently utilised in recruitment campaigns.
“Currently social media provides employers with a vast amount of information about their employees and prospective employees. Recent estimates suggest over 50 percent of US employers are using Facebook and other similar sites to vet prospective employees prior to offering employment.
“Social media web sites can provide a fertile source of information about candidates, but such vetting needs to be used with caution, as in the UK, it may give rise to allegations of unlawful discrimination, ethical issues, or breach of the Data Protection Act principles,” warns Simon.
“The European Union is shortly to pass new laws which will require social network sites such as Twitter or Facebook to delete details published about users if they are requested to do so. The changes will also allow consumers to insist that companies holding data about them, such as with Tesco’s Clubcard, to have this information removed.
“From an employees point of view this ‘right to be forgotten’ may be a useful means of erasing from the public domain a youthful indiscretion or past behaviour which might not, in the future, be viewed favourably by an employer. Certainly youthful University antics, posted on-line for the world to see, have the power to blight future careers. So the right to be forgotten may be welcomed by those who feel that there should be some time limit on how long such information can be retained and may enable employment candidates to ‘move on’ from internet postings they subsequently regret.
“Employers may however feel that it is another set of compliance and red tape with which they have to comply. Arguably in a fiercely competitive jobs market employers should be able to make decisions based on all available information and that a past indiscretion may be highly relevant to the employability of a candidate. The biggest concern for employers though is the cost of compliance, particularly if they themselves will be obliged to erase data after a particular time limit and set in place mechanisms to enable this to occur and be checked. Companies for whom social media forms an essential part of their business strategy may also be concerned that any limits on data retention may adversely impact on their business models.”
There is also a growing issue over the use of social media by an employee which can, and has, been considered as misconduct. Simon explains: “From cyber bullying and discrimination, offensive postings, tweets or photos, then an employer is liable for discrimination in the course of employment. And it is not conduct only within the workplace, as conduct, or misconduct, outside of the workplace also applies, as has been evidenced by a number of recent cases involving individuals and their activities posted on Facebook and the internet, which were considered by employers to have an effect.
“Social media policies within a contract of employment must clearly set-out an employers stand on the use of all and any type of social media, in or away from the workplace. It should include clarity on what postings cannot state, such as illegal material, defamatory materials, breach of equal opportunities policies, or postings that involve bullying or harassment. A social media policy should also cover what is deemed ‘acceptable behaviour’ and the use of internet, smart phones, blogging and tweeting. Online conduct should not differ from offline conduct and employers should make it clear that monitoring will take place.
“And with Linkedin forming such a big part of professionals networking and business development activities, policies should also identify who owns the Linkedin database and network for an employee if they should move on.”