By Andrea Williams
Like it or not, Canadians live on social media. But social media use by employees creates workplace risks for employers: liability to other employees, reputational damage, and productivity drain. A well-drafted, properly implemented written social media policy is a key tool in an employer’s ability to manage and to mitigate the risks of social media use by employees. Here are three steps to an effective workplace social media policy.
Create a distinct social media policy
A social media policy is not strictly necessary before an employer can discipline or dismiss an employee for on- or off-duty social media conduct, but it makes managing it easier. It offers the employer these specific benefits in addition to those of any well-drafted written policy:
Setting out your expectations of social media use is important because of the implications of misconduct due to social media’s impact, reach and permanence.
Detailing the rules helps managers and supervisors understand how to identify social media misconduct and when and how to act.
Making employees aware of the rules around social media use, their obligations to you as an employer, and the possibility of being disciplined for off-duty social media conduct might avoid or reduce the incidence of social media misconduct.
Ideally, a social media policy comprehensively covers employee social media conduct and is designed for the particular purpose of conveying to employees how their online conduct reflects on the employer. A social media policy establishes and communicates what responsible employee social media use is, in order to protect you as an employer.
Employers often have other policies that also apply to social media use (such as a code of conduct or workplace respect policy), but only tangentially. List related policies in the social media policy and ensure they’re all internally consistent.
A distinct social media policy helps set parameters around employees’ privacy expectations in their social media use. It might not eliminate an employee’s expectation of social media privacy, but it can help limit it.
Cover these five elements
It’s important to cover these five key elements in your social media policy.
Make it clear the social media policy applies to all use (on-duty and off-duty) of all social media (defined to include current and future social media services) by all employees who use the employer’s equipment, or use that relates in any way to the employer, its employees, its customers, or its business.
Whether you permit social media use on-duty or not, outline the prohibited social media conduct, including, for example:
Disclosing confidential or proprietary information of the employer or its employees, or customers, or of third parties with which it does business.
Making or posting offensive, defamatory, disparaging, harassing, discriminatory, or indecent content of any kind about anyone.
Making or posting any content of any kind that would damage the employer’s reputation.
Connecting personal social accounts to work email addresses, creating accounts using the employer’s name, or including employer information in their social handles.
Speaking on the employer’s behalf or representing the employer’s agent without your authorization.
Interacting with the media where it affects the employer.
Encourage employees to use the social media platform’s privacy settings and controls, explaining the lack of real anonymity online.
Emphasize that the employer can and could monitor employee computer use and public social media activity, and employees shouldn’t have any expectation of privacy.
Confirm employees are accountable for whatever content they post on social media whenever they post it, and outline the consequences for breaching the policy, including discipline or termination of employment.
When implementing your social media policy, be mindful of these nuances:
Employees often assume that their employer can’t discipline them for off-duty social media conduct, or that they owe no obligations to their employer. Ensure that your employee communications, including training, address and correct these erroneous assumptions.
Not all managers and supervisors might be as social media–savvy as your employees. Adjust your training so all managers and supervisors understand social media enough to effectively enforce the policy.
This is particularly important because of the speed with which technology and social media change.
To discuss this or any other legal issue, contact any member of McInnes Cooper’s Labour & Employment Law Team. Read more McInnes Cooper Legal Publications and subscribe to receive those relevant to your business.
This article is information only; it is not legal advice. McInnes Cooper excludes all liability for anything contained in or any use of this article. © McInnes Cooper, 2021. All rights reserved.
Andrea Williams is a labour and employment lawyer in McInnes Cooper’s St. John’s office. Andrea represents unionized and non-unionized employers on matters such as labour standards, human rights, wrongful dismissals, labour relations, workplace investigations and employee misconduct, and drafting employment agreements and workplace policies. Contact Andrea at firstname.lastname@example.org or 709.570.7316.