The Implications of Social Media

Whether you like it or not, and however you use it, social media has implications for your business. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and increasingly Instagram and WhatsApp are now central to how we communicate with our colleagues, staff, our clients, customers and how we do our marketing, lead generation and much besides.

This means enormous opportunities, to help grow our businesses and to engage with our staff, but like many powerful tools it raises many challenges, and can have negative consequences. Here are just a few of the ones we are increasingly encountering in our day to day roles:

Facebook is the obvious one. It’s extremely useful for marketing, targeted advertising and recruitment among many other things. You can use it to effectively target where you recruit candidates, and you can use to keep your customers and clients engaged. But it raises many HR issues. Employees bad-mouthing their employers on social media does happen, and even if they do not state whom their employer is on their profile, you can still consider whether or not this brings your company into disrepute. It goes without saying that employees wasting time on Facebook during working time can be treated as a disciplinary issue but speak to us before taking any action as you need to be fair and consistent!

In recruitment, be careful not to use Facebook to conduct ‘background checks’ on prospective employees. It could be considered as data processing under The Data Protection Act 2018 and GDPR and runs the risk of future discrimination claims where you reject a candidate.

LinkedIn has similar benefits to your business and similar risks but has an added issue of client connections. Your contracts may have non-compete clauses and restrictive covenants that prevent non-solicitation of your clients by leavers; but if they have your clients on LinkedIn and leave, your clients will know that they have left and will be able to contact them. Case law has found that a LinkedIn update saying that the person has moved does not count as solicitation of clients, so this puts you at risk of losing your clients.

WhatsApp is increasingly used as a tool for employees to communicate and to circulate messages between teams, different groups for projects and so on. This makes it more convenient and more efficient than email, that it is more informal can be a benefit. But this informality also leaves you open to problems. Employees sending each other messages about their colleagues can lead to harassment and bullying claims where the victim finds out and employees being left out of work groups could lead to victimisation claims. The blurring of the lines between what is a work issue and what is personal is an area where the law is developing.

Crucially, you need to know that WhatsApp messages are potentially disclosable to a Tribunal. If you send messages to your co-director or another manager about one of your staff, a Tribunal could request that from you as evidence. So be very careful about what you commit to writing, even in private chats.

As an employer, you need to think about how you use social media and think about the risks involved. Have a clear policy in place for what you expect from your staff, what is acceptable and what is not.

This article was first written by HR Advisor Michael Mason for our Spring edition of PeopleTalk.

Michael has been with DOHR for two and a half years and is always on our front line, advising clients on a daily basis.

In his spare time, Michael can be found taking in a concert or drinking a good quality beer or glass of wine.

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