Social media policies need to keep pace with workplace trends

9 Mar 2012

Boyce Shubotham, Willam Fry's head of employment and benefits

Many workplace social media policies haven’t kept up with trends but need to be updated to avoid potential legal issues, a seminar audience heard yesterday.

Law firm William Fry hosted the briefing, titled ‘Social Networking: A Web of Challenges’. The firm’s head of employment and benefits Boyce Shubotham said the lines have blurred between professional and personal use of social networks.

“Ireland has the second-highest penetration of LinkedIn users in the world and companies need to ensure they have social media policies in place and communicated to avoid potential conflicts,” Shubotham said.

The event addressed the legal aspects of social networking, including what implications may face a company or employee if an employee posting brings the company into disrepute. Guidelines on how a company can stay ahead of its competitors through the use of social media and networking and how to protect your company and clients were also discussed.

Shubotham said an employer is permitted to take action against an employee who posts a negative or disparaging comment on a site about a colleague or their employer, but there are issues to be considered first.

“An employer needs to prove sufficient reputational damage in order to stand over disciplinary action or even dismissal. An employer’s response must be proportionate and this will very much depend upon the circumstances,” Shubotham added.    

Companies’ use of social media

The briefing’s guest speaker, Cpl Recruitment director Peter Cosgrove spoke of how companies can use social media and networking sites to better understand their customer base. “The use of social networking can help grow your business, target new customers and improve your products or services,” he said.

“Before implementing social networking into a marketing plan, companies must be sure about what they want to say and who they want to target. Once that is agreed, it can be used positively and not become a catalyst for a publicity disaster.”

Catherine O’Flynn, an associate at William Fry, said many Irish companies don’t have policies in place despite the high usage of social networking sites in Ireland.

She advised employers to set out acceptable levels of usage by putting defined parameters in place. “Set out what behaviour is deemed unacceptable. This would include disclosing confidential information, harassing or bullying or making discriminatory comments about employees or the company. It is also important to outline the different stages of your company’s disciplinary process and explain to employees that social networking usage will be monitored,” she said.   

Gordon Smith was a contributor to Silicon Republic