How do businesses meet the challenges Social Media brings to the modern workplace?

The prevalence of social media (Facebook has over 10 million users in Australia alone) together with smart devices brings yet another dimension to managing employees in the modern workplace. While social media channels such as Facebook posts, Twitter accounts and LinkedIn groups offer many benefits to promoting your business, they also bring many challenges to managing employees.

I am seeing an increasing number of examples of businesses being affected by decreased productivity, bullying and harassment, disclosure of confidential information and damage to their reputation. Businesses are also struggling with lawfully disciplining employees who inappropriately use social media.

In the case of Glen Stutsel v Linfox Australia Pty Ltd [2011] FWA 8444, a truck driver was dismissed after posting derogatory statements about his managers outside of his work hours. What is concerning in this case is that Fair Work Australia upheld a finding that the employer unfairly dismissed the employee. Linfox was ordered to reinstate the employee and pay for lost wages. However, the outcome could have been very different had Linfox had a policy on social media. FWA criticised Linfox for not having a detailed social media policy in place. FWA said that:

“At the time of [the employee’s] dismissal, Linfox did not have any policy relating to the use of social media by its employees. Indeed, even by the time of the hearing, it still did not have such a policy. The Company relies on its induction training and relevant handbook… to ground its action against [the employee]. In the current electronic age, this is not sufficient and many large companies have published detailed social media policies and taken pains to acquaint their employees with those policies. Linfox did not.”

In contrast In another recent case of Damien O’Keefe v Williams Muir’s Pty Ltd t/as Troy Williams he Good Guys [2011] FWA 5311. In this case an employee was dismissed for serious misconduct after posting derogatory comments about the employer on his Facebook profile. The employees unfair dismissal application was dismissed largely because of the strong policies held by the Good Guys.

What should employers do?

So as business owners how can we manage the risks social media brings? To start with businesses should have a policy that provides strict guidelines on the use of social media at the workplace and out of hours and which outlines employees’ responsibilities including in relation to bullying and harassment and confidentiality. Specifically the policy must include:

  1. a definition of inappropriate use;
  2. the employer’s expectations around social media in the workplace and acknowledgement that comments made in private accounts out of hours may result in disciplinary action. Employees need to acknowledge that what they may perceive as their personal posts or comments are not necessarily private and may still be considered related to their work;
  3. a clear statement that an expectation of privacy is non-existent if there is a sufficient connection to the workplace and that access will be monitored (if available and in accordance with the relevant surveillance legislation);
  4. reiteration of obligations around the use of confidential information; and
  5. clearly set out the consequences of inappropriate social media use.

The policy should also be aligned with other business policies and procedures including:

  1. Code of Conduct
  2. Prevention of Discrimination, Harassment and Bullying
  3. Performance Management
  4. Discipline and Termination

As always however, any inappropriate conduct must be quickly addressed first in person by the by the employees manager, and followed up in writing if the problem persists. Professional advice should be sought before a business dismisses an employee to ensure they are acting within employment laws.

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