Workplace Relations

Risks associated with Social Media

The phenomenal rise in the use (and misuse) of social media is something to behold.

The way in which people now gather their news, communicate with their friends and the wider world is a development that, whilst exciting and useful, can also be particularly challenging in the workplace.

Employers are well advised (and indeed required by law) to develop and maintain appropriate policies in the workplace. Typically such policies were around matters such as equal opportunity, bullying, occupational health and safety etc.

Employees also need to exercise extreme care in the use of social media in case allegations are made by their employer that they have placed inappropriate messages or images on social media sites and which might end in the termination of their employment for misconduct.

Employer policies ought make plain to employees their obligations with respect to the use of email and social media. From an employer’s perspective, if they feel offended by postings on social media and seek to dismiss their employee for misconduct, then it will be critically important that they are able to establish that they have a social media policy, that it had been promulgated, and employees are educated with respect to it.

Apart from having an appropriate policy, an employer seeking to dismiss an employee will need to ensure that the dismissal is not later challenged on the basis of being harsh, unjust or unreasonable.

An appropriate social media policy ought to contain provisions directing employees as to the risks associated with the dissemination of information on social media; to ensure that employees do not engage in discriminatory bullying, harassment or defamation of others; the importance of privacy, and, that the business’ email ought to be confined to business matters and not used for personal purposes. The policy will also outline appropriate procedures in respect of complaints or issues arising out of alleged misuse of social media or emails and also draw attention to the fact that in the case of serious abuse, that it might lead to disciplinary action, including dismissal.

Experience shows that many organisations whilst developing policies, then fail to monitor them and fair to ensure that new employees are provided with copies and are educated about the policies.

Author: Peter Wilson

Published: 4 October 2012


The information in this article is general in nature and is not to be relied upon as legal advice. As always, we recommend you seek thorough legal advice to consider your own circumstances and determine whether the information contained in this article is applicable to you.  This article is current as at the date of publishing but will not be updated as circumstances change.