Social media in the workplace, are you doing enough?

Theresa May recently announced a review by the Law Commission into the laws around offensive social media communications and whether they provide the right protection for victims online. According to research cited by the commission, 28% of UK internet users were on the receiving end of trolling, harassment or cyberbullying in 2017.

The review is due to be published before the end of 2018. If deficiencies are identified, the commission expects to do further work on options for reform.

In more developments in this area, the government will publish its Internet Safety Strategy in the spring, which will include details of a new social media code of practice aimed at social media companies.

The code will be aimed at social media companies, but may contain helpful guidance for employers in terms of stamping out internet abuse. Failure by businesses to tackle online harassment not only creates an invidious environment for employees, but puts employers at risk of claims against them. Thought should therefore be given to changes to workplace policies, procedures and practice.

Putting in place a social media policy that is consistent with all other policies (including anti-harassment and bullying, discrimination and disciplinary) is an important step. Companies should raise awareness of the applicable policies, ideally through training.

A social media policy should include:
• A clear message about company expectations of the use of social media.
• Confirmation that online conduct harmful to other employees or the company, whether or not in the employee’s own time, can amount to misconduct or gross misconduct.
• A reminder that employees’ use of social media in the workplace is not necessarily private.
• Restrictions around the use of IT.
• A prohibition of harassment, bullying, discrimination and negative comments about the company, its employees, business contacts or competitors.

It is also advisable to have a policy that specifically allows for the monitoring of emails and use of the internet. Consider including similar provisions in employment contracts. Employers should, however, balance their approach to monitoring with employees’ privacy rights.

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