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The use of social media and the office Christmas party

21st December 2016

The use of social media and the office Christmas party

The office Christmas party is a chance for everyone to let their hair down and have fun, but with alcohol often flowing freely and people’s judgement impaired as a result the potential for employees to get carried away is clear. In the days before social media a drunken kiss between Georgia and Brian in accounts, or some seriously dodgy dance moves by the office manager, would have caused a few giggles and a bit of gossip at the time but would soon be forgotten. This is not the case now where we have at our fingertips the chance to share these embarrassing moments with the world with the tap of a few buttons.

Few employees realise the potential damage that can be done by their use of social media during and after the office party or that it could possibly result in them losing their jobs.  Even fewer realise that if what they have posted or uploaded concerns a colleague they could end up getting their employer in trouble too.

A comprehensive social media policy which is communicated to all employees in advance of the office party, or indeed any other business-related function, can be a very effective way of highlighting the dangers social media can pose in this sort of situation.  While the introduction of a social media policy now will come too late for those employees guilty of the misuse of social media at this year’s party it will hopefully prevent similar problems arising next year.

Sarah Everton, employment law specialist at Myers & Co Solicitors in Staffordshire explains how social media policies work and highlights the key things that should be covered.

What is a social media policy?

A social media policy sets out the rules and expectations for your employees use of social media in the workplace as part of their work duties.  It should also set out rules and expectations for the use of social media by your employees in their personal capacity where this might have an impact on your business.  This includes at work-sponsored or funded social gatherings, such as the office Christmas party or the annual summer get-together.

Why is it important to have a social media policy?

Although there will be some cross-over with policies on electronic communications, the particular difficulties that inappropriate use of social media can create means it is important to have a separate social media policy.  Recent examples of employees misusing social media to the detriment of their employer include an employee using his employer’s Twitter account to post his own unflattering views about Newcastle United supporters, an employee using Facebook to engage in derogatory ‘banter’ about managers in their employer’s business being drunk while working, an employee using Facebook to complain about their working conditions and an employee using Facebook to make threats to a colleague.

In the context of the office Christmas party there have been a number of incidents of employees uploading and sharing embarrassing or compromising photographs of colleagues on various social media platforms.

The potential for an employee’s use of social media to damage your brand and reputation is clear.  However, there is also a risk that something posted on social media could expose you to potential liability.  For instance, an employee who harasses a colleague on social media might put you in breach of your duty to provide a safe working environment.  You might also be liable for an employee who uses social media to make discriminatory comments about a colleague or defamatory comments about a competitor.  There is also the risk of damage being caused if an employee uses social media to post commercially sensitive or confidential information.

The speed and lack of control over the dissemination of information released on social media, and the difficulties in removing any posts made, presents a real risk to your business and is something that needs to be tightly controlled.

What should a social media policy include?

Your first step is to decide how much, if any, personal use of social media is allowed in the workplace or using work equipment.  When it comes to using social media for work purposes, the policy should set out rules relating to appropriate use.  These rules are aimed at protecting your brand and reputation, protecting confidential and commercially sensitive information, providing safeguards for checking any content before it goes live, avoiding breaches of copyright and avoiding any online bullying or harassment of colleagues.

It is also sensible to explain how the rules apply to your employees use of social media in their personal lives where this might impact on your business.  For instance, although employees may regard their Facebook accounts as private, if they use their account to send insulting messages to a colleague or to complain about a supplier or customer, you may need to take action.  Action may also be necessary if they use their account to post offensive or derogatory remarks about the behaviour or actions of colleagues at work-related events.

The policy should clarify if employee use of social media will be monitored and, if so, the purposes of the monitoring.  This warning is needed to comply with data protection provisions and regulations on intercepting communications.  The consequences for an employee who breaches the policy should also be set out.  You may wish to state in your disciplinary policy that a serious breach of the social media policy may result in summary dismissal and link this to your equality policy.

Make sure you publicise your policy when it comes into effect and again at key times of the year, including Christmas.  Keep your policy under review, particularly to ensure that it is still fit for purpose as technology develops.  Finally, make sure the policy encourages effective use of social media for the benefit of your business because, used appropriately, social media can be a very effective promotional tool.

For a confidential discussion about preparing a social media policy or ensuring appropriate use of social media, please contact Sarah Everton employment law solicitor at Myers & Co Solicitors in Staffordshire on 01782 577000 or email sarah.everton@myerssolicitors.co.uk.

The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only.  They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice.  The law may have changed since this article was published.   Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.