News (if you can call it that) of a senior British Council employee criticising 3-year old Prince George in rather unflattering terms in a facebook post has sparked some debate about the future monarch, workplace monitoring, white-privilege and freedom of speech.
Silly-season is upon us.
But in an age where our work and personal lives can be so closely inter-twined as to be inseparable, regulating social media activity is a huge challenge in the workplace, particularly when it concerns private posts made out of hours.
Here are 5 observations on this evolving area of law and policy:
- All employers should have a social media policy in a form that suits them. It goes without saying that it should be subject to ongoing review and able to respond to rapid and fundamental changes in social media activity (just think of the game-changing phenomenon that is Pokemon Go, for example);
- With a balanced and informed policy in place which employees are fully aware of and buy into, it will come as no surprise if people face disciplinary action for any serious breaches. Preferably, employees should have some say over the ongoing development of the policy and it should form part of the standard set of documents. Everyone should know where the boundaries lie.
- Regulation works both ways. Employees should respect the fact that posts on social media connected to their work or colleagues can harm their employer’s reputation. Employers need to recognise that there is a place for privacy online and that the personal lives and opinions of staff should not be unduly monitored and investigated. Getting the balance right in any given case is tricky, but it is far better to think about and discuss these issues in your workplace policy than to improvise in front of an Employment Tribunal Judge.
- Serious potential breaches of a social media policy should always be investigated thoroughly by a person who is independent from the alleged misconduct. It is crucial that different employees are treated fairly and are subject to the same policy and disciplinary measures. If a person can point to someone else who has been treated less harshly for a similar offence, this may make the disciplinary process unfair. For further guidance on investigating misconduct, have a look at my earlier post about the case of Jeremy Clarkson and the BBC.
- Last but not least, Acas has busily been looking into this issue for some time and has provided a helpful suite of guidance on using social media in the workplace which you can access here. It ranges widely and covers issues such as discrimination in recruitment, monitoring, ‘time-theft’, addiction and skiving.
What’s your view?
What does a practical social media policy looks like?
What’s your take on the whole Prince George / facebook story?