Why do employers need a social media policy in place?

4th February 2016 3:40 pm Leave your thoughts

A recent case heard before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has highlighted the grey area surrounding an employee’s right to privacy when accessing social media during company time.

In this case, involving a company in Romania, an employee used a workplace messaging account to send private e-mails. This was in clear breach of company policy and he was dismissed.  The employee’s case was that his right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence had been breached by his employer. The court found that the employer had acted reasonably as the business had a clear policy in place surrounding what employees could and couldn’t do on social media accounts during working hours.

So how does this affect a UK Employer?

As Britain has ratified the European Convention on Human Rights, UK judges must take into account the ECHR’s rulings on identical cases (notwithstanding it is not bound by them).

Although this ruling doesn’t give employers the right to read private messages in all cases, what it does underline is the need for employers to have clear policies in place that cover the use of company equipment and social media access.

What do employers need to do?

First, employers need to review their internal policies to see if they cover the employees’ use of social media in company time. If not, then it is important to include one.

Secondly, employers need to include in any social media policy what is and what is not acceptable behaviour concerning the use of the internet, e-mail, smart phones and social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. This should be referred to in the terms and conditions of employment and set out more fully in the staff handbooks or in the online policy and procedures manual.

It is a fact

When it comes to recruiting staff, employers increasingly look at profiles on social networking sites. According to a survey of 300 company recruiters, 91% of British employers check out applicants on social media.  While this is clearly becoming common practice, care needs to be exercised in this area as this can be viewed as discriminatory and unfair to candidates.

So is this really a problem for employers?

Employers do need to keep abreast of developments in this rapidly-changing area of the law. The lines between work and home life are in many instances becoming increasingly blurred. In some organisations it has become common for employees to deal with company e-mails after hours and at weekends, so clearly a certain amount of flexibility is advisable.

If your organisation doesn’t currently have a policy covering social media, or you haven’t revisited your existing rules and guidelines in a while, why not contact us to set up a review?


Categorised in: Company and Commercial Law, Latest news

This post was written by Colemans Solicitors LLP

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