Addressing inappropriate social media use

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By Abbey George, TCCI workplace relations expert

Social media has become a big part of our everyday lives and therefore also a big part of our work ones too.

The 2016 Workplace Info Social Media Index indicated that 43% of employers surveyed monitor their employee’s internet use, 13% of organisation block social media sites, 16% of employers would do nothing if their employees were slandering someone outside the organisation via Facebook or Twitter exposing them to a reputational risk and 38% of bullying primarily involved employees making inappropriate, derogatory and disparaging comments about their co-workers.

However it is not all bad news for employers with ways that inappropriate use can be addressed through:

  • Performance management of excessive use of social media by employees during work hours;
  • Performance management of inappropriate use of social media outside of work hours provided there is a link to work and/or there is a serious risk of reputational damage to the business; and
  • Management of other issues such as use of personal leave where it has been found via social media that the employee was not in fact unfit for work (for example through posting photos of what they were actually doing during the leave period).

Generally the Fair Work Commission has erred on the side that if a social media posting is initially undertaken outside of working hours, it does not come down once work commences. Therefore, provided there is a link to work then it can be acted upon by the employer.

What link will depend on each specific circumstance but can include factors such as:

  • Can the employee be identified?
  • Could the employer’s reputation and business be damaged?
  • Were the comments or materials made publicly?
  • Were the comments seen by (or directed to) other employees?
  • Is there a breach of the law (discrimination, harassment, bullying etc.)?
  • Is there a breach of policy which has been communicated to the employee?

In a nutshell, there are a few lessons for employers to bear in mind in relation to social media and their employees:

  • Having a clear social media policy is important;
  • Ensure consultation, revisiting, training/information sessions and enforce it;
  • Educate your employees;
  • There must be a link to work;
  • Procedural fairness is paramount; and
  • Individual circumstances of each case are highly significant.

As always, if in doubt ASK – the TCCI is here to assist you with all of you employment related matters and you can contact the Helpline on 1300 765 123 or the TCCI on 1300 59 122 or workplacerelations@tcci.com.au  

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