Social media – when personal and professional collide

Social Media - Centric HR

Whether you are new to it or an aficionado, there is always the capacity for tripping up when it comes to social media and the working environment. We have pretty much seen all of it, as there is always the potential for what an employee sees as a small gaffe having wide ranging consequences, up to and including instant dismissal for a candidate or a business branding disaster.

Social media is a way for everyone to express their innermost thoughts to the rest of the world, and is always going to have the chance of causing a professional casualty. Especially when there is a right to free speech

As far back as 2011, social media gaffes by employees have been well documented, with lists and galleries mocking those who have been caught out with inappropriate, incorrect and in some cases plain foolish posts on social media. Primarily the reasoning behind dismissal is bringing a brand into disrepute and can cost people their job, whilst the company then has to strategize to limit any damage caused.

One thing many candidates do not realise, is that employers will look at their social media accounts before shortlisting, and this can damage chances of being taken further forward in the process. Research by PR network Eurocom Worldwide found that one in five employers scan a candidates social media accounts before offering an interview, allowing candidates to disqualify themselves through social media usage. If a candidate spends hours bemoaning their current employer, then it can be assumed that they would do the same to a potential new employer.

So where does a company legally stand on social media usage? What is the best way to move forward if there is a concern about what an employee may be saying on social media? And what is the best way to approach social media usage before there is the potential of a lawsuit, dismissal or PR disaster?

Legally, as the law waits to catch up with this new way of communication, there is a grey area between what is officially legal and what is advisory. Until this is cemented, HR professionals have to work around individual policies that are devised for specific companies, and focus on precedent.

The easiest way to futureproof is to ensure that your company has a robust social media guide and ensure that all employees are fully aware through training, induction and policy of what it is expected of them.

Primary areas to include in a social media guide

Avoiding negative comments around:

  • Job roles
  • The business as a whole
  • Colleagues and managers
  • Customers and clients
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Breach of confidentiality

This includes anything that may allow anyone to understand through ambiguous hints and may include:

  • Commercially sensitive data
  • Intellectual property/trade secrets
  • Personal Sensitive data e.g. other colleague information

Criminal offences such as:

  • Threats
  • Defamation
  • Hate crimes
  • Harassment

Offensive content

Although it may not be criminal, the employer has the right to decide what classes as offensive, provided this has been stipulated in the social media guidelines

Evidence of other dismissal offences

The best advice a company can give to its employees, is that although they have a right to free speech, it is sensible to think through anything they post. If they aren’t sure – don’t post it.

How we can help

At Centric HR we can write a bespoke induction presentation for new employees which includes all the elements of social media to manage employee expectations and assert what is expected from Day 1 of employment.  For further advice and support and how to protect your business in relation to social media, please contact us here.

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Picture of Sandra Berns

Sandra Berns

Centric HR was founded by Sandra Berns, a confident and versatile Human Resources and Organisational Development Practitioner with 25 years demonstrable experience and a Fellow of the CIPD. Sandra has both Operational and Strategic HR expertise across Public and Private sectors and has assisted senior teams in meeting challenging workforce objectives in many corporate environments.