Hegarty Social Media Policy - Employment Law

Is Your Social Media Policy up to Date With Your Business Practices?

As such, it is important for a business’s social media policy to reflect how social media is to be used throughout the company and that it is kept up to date consistently. 

The use of social media, whether for business or personal use, could lead to a number of significant risks for any business, such as negative exposure of the business, or losing valuable clients.

Though many may construe the use of social media as an informal channel of communication in the workplace, excerpts of social media accounts have been presented as evidence in legal proceedings. As such, a business’s use of social media in any capacity should be handled with strong guidelines and procedures.

Adopting a comprehensive social media policy will allow you to establish clear standards of good practice, whilst simultaneously alerting your staff of the risks associated with social media. As a further safeguarding measure, it may be beneficial to indicate which employees are able to use social media on the company’s behalf and, by extension, whether individuals will require prior authorisation from a senior member before posting online.

Things to consider about your social media policy

Ownership of the account

Typically, the provider of the account has their own terms and conditions relating to the social media account. A common example is LinkedIn where their terms and conditions specify that legal ownership of the account lies with the actual account holder themselves.

A situation may arise where an employer may ask its employees to set up business accounts on their behalf using the employees’ credentials. In this instance, the employer must ensure that the social media policy in place reflects the fact that the organisation has sole ownership of the account. The policy should go further to state that in the circumstance that an employee leaves, all passwords are either to be shared or transferred immediately upon their exit back to the organisation. 

Ownership of contacts 

It has been held by the courts that contacts which have been obtained via social media by an employee through a work account are legally owned by the employer.

The principle that, upon exit, employees are prohibited from taking their employer’s contacts to use in competition, has been widely entrenched. Although the application of this principle in case law is fairly minimal, there has been success in the outcome of cases that have relied on this principle. 

Personal accounts for work purposes

As mentioned above, the use of personal accounts when sufficient policies are not in place will likely lead to the business suffering detriment. This detriment may occur when an employee already has relevant contacts on their personal account which they then use on behalf of the business. 

To mitigate this potential risk, employers should set clear guidelines regarding an employee’s use of personal social media accounts for work purposes. Depending on the desired use of social media, the employer could also specify this in employment contracts to avoid any misunderstandings. 

However, if you do allow the use of personal accounts, it should be in the policy that any contacts made during employment, belong to the company. Additionally, the policy should lay out the process for the transfer of information, should the employee leave the company, including if deleting the account is required. 

Your social media policy

We suggest the following to include and/or consider in your social media policy:

  • When operating accounts such as LinkedIn or other social media accounts, the company’s details and work email should be used. The details should be shared with another member in order to ensure that the employee is not the only person who has access to the account. It should be made clear to employees that the social media account and its data belongs solely to the employer. 
  • To help protect your business it could be made mandatory for an employee to share login details with the employer or senior member on their departure. An employer could also require the employee to add contacts made through social media to the company’s database.
  • If the employee has the authority to use their personal account for work purposes, any specific requirements relating to its usage should be made clear to that particular employee.
  • To avoid reputational damage or even claims of defamation or malicious falsehood, employees must remain to be professional and respectful at all times when using social media. 
  • It may be best to inform your employees about not engaging in false advertising or other unethical marketing methods.
  • An employee may want to share news of success of the company involving third parties (e.g. new customers, deals). When doing so, they should be made aware of data protection law, terms of non-disclosure agreements, legal privilege and other material which must be kept confidential of the third party and the company.  

This list is not the complete list of everything you should think about but hopefully gives you an idea of what to consider. 

The social media policy should also link to other policies such as: data protection; equality, diversity, and inclusion; confidentiality; IT and electronic communications; anti-harassment and bullying; and disciplinary.

It is recommended that the policy is regularly reviewed and kept up to date to align with current business practices. It can be implemented by informing all staff through induction training and through sharing regular updates. 

Written by Katie Bowen Nicholas, Employment Solicitor at Hegarty who are members of Peterborough Business Directory.

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