Social media - discipline and grievance
- How to apply company disciplinary rules to social media
- Communicating the guidelines
- Defamation, data protection and privacy
There can be confusion over what is acceptable behaviour regarding the use of social media. Some employees believe they should be able to say what they want on their own social media sites, especially if these comments are made outside of work. Often employees don't realise the implications of making derogatory remarks about people they work with or their employer.
The best approach is for an employer to make it clear to employees what online conduct is acceptable, and what is not, and deal with any issues through the same procedures it would deal with any other kind of disciplinary or grievance matters.
Drawing a line between work and home life can be difficult for employers. For example, is an employee using a blog to express personal views or are they acting as a representative of the company? If an employee has a twitter account are they posting tweets on behalf of the company or are their tweets their own views?
Employees sometimes use social networking sites, emails or other forms of social media to air their grievances. For example, an employee may complain about how they are being treated by their line manager at work. These comments could be seen by customers, colleagues and often the line manager. Line managers should avoid knee-jerk reactions by abandoning how they would normally handle a disciplinary issue. Instead, to avoid responding in the heat of the moment they should stick with the proper disciplinary procedure.
An employer should include social networking in their discipline and grievance policy, giving clear examples of what will be regarded as gross misconduct - for example, posting derogatory or offensive comments on the internet about the company or a work colleague.
Many employers have clear rules on defamation and breaches of confidentiality, but are often less sure about whether they should be making judgements about an employee's behaviour online.
Social networking can be an excuse for avoiding face-to-face conversations. Many of the issues that lead to disciplinary and grievance problems at work can often be dealt with by a manager having a quiet word with an employee - which can prove hard if line managers have become reliant on communicating electronically.
Employers should make it clear when employees will be seen as representing the company and what personal views they can express - for example, some employees are forbidden from expressing any political views. Also, an employer should be clear about what it means by defamation and how it expects employees to help protect the company or organisational brand.
Don't forget direct forms of communication, many of the causes of conflict at work can be resolved by face-to-face interaction.
Employees and employers should also be aware that their online behaviour could break defamation, data protection or privacy laws. For instance, if an employee posted damaging or libellous comments about a company or its products or publishing sensitive commercial data; or if an employer divulged protected personal data, such as giving away details of salary, political or religious beliefs or disciplinary records.