We answer all your big social media policy questions
Frequently asked questions about employee rights and responsibilities online
Q: Why do I, as an employer, need a social media policy for my business?
A: A social media policy educates employees and sets-down the ground rules with regards to their conduct on social media platforms. The following are some compelling reasons why your business needs to adopt a social media policy:
1. To Protect your Business Reputation : The use of inappropriate language, negative or insensitive comments, or other similar faux pas on social media can place your business in a bad light. Loss of reputation may result in decline in profits and in some cases, being sued in a court of law. Therefore the introduction of a social media policy into your business would have the benefit of protecting your reputation.
2. Minimize Loss of Productivity : Due to rise in activity on social media, employees spend increasingly more time on sharing and communicating, often consumed with online presence, profiles and updating posts, even during working hours. The result is loss of work time and productivity for businesses. By introducing a social media policy you can limit the amount of time employees spend on social media for personal use.
3. Raise Awareness of Brand : A social media policy does more than just averting your problems by imposing “restrictions”. As guiding principles, it provides direction to employees and may help the business achieve its goals. For example, the social media policy, if drafted correctly, would advise employees on how to word their comments, post and articles to boost brand awareness by directing traffic to your website.
Q: My employer has blocked my access to Facebook on my work computer, and banned use of any social media during working hours. Is this not an infringement on my freedom of speech and right to privacy?
A: By virtue of the employment contract, the employer has the right to expect employee’s full time and attention during working hours in return for the remuneration given. Social media activities can be a huge waste of paid employee time. In addition, a ban on access to social media helps to protect an employer’s reputation, prevent breaches of confidentiality and create a safe working environment.
However, the employer’s rights must be balanced against the employee’s right to privacy both within and outside of the workplace. Employees have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the workplace. The extent of the employee’s right to privacy is determined by
1. the nature of the activity;
2. where it takes place;
3. ownership of the hardware, software or server used by the employee; and
4. the policies consistently enforced.
These competing rights between the employer and employee can be resolved by having a clear, consistent and enforceable policy detailing the extent to which the employer can monitor social networking activities. Such policy would include clauses such as:
1. The extent of permitted access to social media during working hours, which could range from an outright ban to limiting permitted usage.
2. Permitting access to some useful media such as LinkedIn.
3. Explicitly spelling out what use is permitted both in and outside of the workplace.
4. Reminding employees that all communications over employer owned server will be monitored and that all such communications are property of the employer.
5. Establishing behavioural guidelines when using permitted media.
Q: I have a co-worker sending racist and sexist comments to me on e-mail. I have reported the incidents to my employer but no action has been taken. What can I do?
A: The Codes of Good Practice: Handling of Sexual Harassment Cases states that an employer must have a sexual harassment policy in place. This places a positive obligation on management to implement the policy and take disciplinary action against employees who do not comply. The Code defines sexual harassment to include physical, verbal and non-verbal conduct.
The above conduct constitutes harassment in the form of unfair discrimination. In said case the employee alleging the harassment should bring it to the employer’s attention. The employer is obliged to then consult with all the relevant parties and take the necessary steps to eliminate the conduct.
The employer will be liable for the harassment to the employee if:
1. Harassment to the employee has been proven;
2. The employer did not follow the procedure to eliminate the harassment; and
3. The employer cannot prove that he did all that was reasonably practicable to eliminate the conduct.
The employer will not escape liability from harassment by using the defense that he was unaware that such harassment was taking place.