October 30, 2013

Putting a stop to social networking misuse

Advancements in social networking, through the medium of Smart phones, the internet, tweeting and blogging, have transformed the world of business.

It helps us to work more flexibly, stay in touch for longer and respond to each other more quickly. But social media and internet misuse at work now costs the British economy billions of pounds each year. Employers can face a range of employment issues….

Some of the more major issues are:

Poor Productivity – Resulting from employees’ usage of the organisation’s computer systems during working hours for personal reasons, such as sending personal emails, updating social networking accounts and online shopping.

Defamation – Employees posting damaging or libellous comments about the company or their products or by publishing sensitive commercial data.

Cyber bullying – Bullying, harassment and victimisation of work colleagues conducted via social networking channels, often using blogs or social networking sites to post photographs or offensive or threatening comments.

Posting grievances – Employees may use social networking sites or other forms of social media to air their grievances. For example, an employee may complain about how they are being treated by their line manager at work.

Setting Behaviour Standards

A recent research paper from the Institute of Employment Studies, commissioned by Acas, highlights the difficulties some employers are having in setting standards of behaviour for the use of social networking tools. The report advises employers to take a “common sense stance” to regulating behaviour and to draw on “norms that might apply in non-virtual settings”. In other words, to treat ‘electronic behaviour’ as you would treat ‘non-electronic behaviour’.

Developing a policy on the use of social media – Every organisation will have different rules. Depending on the nature of the business, employers must decide whether to:

• allow unlimited access to social media sites

• have restricted access for work purposes only

• restrict personal use to certain times of the day, for example lunch breaks or after work, or to

• operate a complete ban.

It will be important to consult employee or union representatives when drawing up your policy. As this is a rapidly changing area, your policy will need to be updated on a regular basis.

Make sure you set out your parameters in the policy. You must also specify what behaviour will constitute gross misconduct – this will be any behaviour which is sufficiently serious to justify summary dismissal. The policy will need to be properly communicated and the education of staff will be a key part of introducing a policy or guidance on the use of social media.

Update bullying and disciplinary policies to include guidance on the use of social media. For example, you should clearly state what type of behaviour is unacceptable. This might include the use of offensive or intimidating language directed at another employee on social networking sites. Your bullying policy can also cover cyber bullying outside of the workplace. Check that your disciplinary policy co-ordinates with the social media policy in terms of any abuse of social networking sites, use of the internet etc.

Be clear about what behaviour may be monitored and what disciplinary sanctions may be triggered by an abuse of the policy. For example, where someone is absent from work due to sickness but colleagues report seeing online pictures of the individual which shows they are out socialising with friends.

Induction – make sure you specify and establish acceptable standards of behaviour during the induction period. It will also be necessary to highlight the consequences when standards are not met. For example, where employees are regularly misusing company facilities, this will have a negative impact on productivity and place additional pressure on work colleagues. Make sure that employees are clear about the link between abuse of your social media policy and the disciplinary policy.

Reserve the right to monitor electronic activity when necessary, for example, if employees report instances of cyber bullying. Remember that monitoring must only be done with the full knowledge of those being monitored. Therefore it is important to state this in the social media policy and employee handbook if this is the case. Make sure you inform and consult with your employees if you are planning to monitor social media activity.

Legal Considerations of Monitoring Electronic Activity

The Human Rights Act 1998 sets out the fundamental rights and freedoms that apply to individuals in the UK, such as the right to a private and family life. All courts must now interpret existing legislation in relation to the Human Rights Act. Case law suggests that employees have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the workplace.

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 covers the extent to which organisations can monitor or record communications at the point at which they enter or are being sent within the employer’s telecommunications system. This applies to public and private communication networks. It gives the sender or recipient of a communication the right of action for damages against the employer for the unlawful interception of communications.

The Data Protection Act 1988: the Information Commissioner is responsible for enforcement of the Data Protection Act and has published a code of practice to help employers comply with the provisions of the Act. The Employment Practices Code clarifies the Act in relation to the processing of individual data, and the basis for monitoring and retention of email communications.

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