Businesses are poorly equipped to handle the legal implications of social networking, particularly issues that are steadily arising in terms of cyber bullying or protecting confidential information.
Joanne Hyde, Eversheds Employment Law partner, said the increasing popularity of social networking is blurring professional and personal lines, potentially resulting in employees making comments on personal blogs, Facebook, etc, that could have a negative business impact for their employers.
“With 600m Facebook users worldwide and 100m LinkedIn users, it’s fair to say that social networking is now one of the most popular forms of communication around the globe,” said Hyde.
“According to research by Peninsula, the average employee wastes more than two hours a day on online personal activities.
"Peninsula’s 2011 research shows that 67pc of Irish employees admitted to checking their social network services during work hours, and 73pc of Irish employees admitted to having bad mouthed their employers on social networking sites.”
Social networking and career dead ends
“While the upside of the new social networking environment is that it presents new business and marketing opportunities for companies,” Hyde explained, “there are downsides in terms of expectations of behaviour and how those issues are dealt with.
“Among the common concerns for companies around recruitment, for example, rejecting a candidate on the basis of a Facebook posting about drinking, political affiliations, etc, or comments about the company and the job. Companies also have to consider how to deal with cases of cyber bullying among staff, how to protect confidential information.
“The question of whether it is legal to dismiss an employee for comments posted about either the company or an individual manager is particularly topical this week, given the media report suggesting a junior Lloyds Bank employee had been sacked for complaining about the fairness of her hourly salary of £7 as compared with that of the CEO who is paid £4,000 per hour! The key issue in legal terms is clarity – companies need to give employees clear and comprehensive guidelines in relation to the use of social networks and consequences of misuse so that they can protect themselves against litigation.”
Hyde recommends that companies review and update their company policies to cover risks posed by employees accessing social network sites.
These include general email and internet policies, non-disclosure and confidential polices, disciplinary policies and bullying policies.