Blogging, tweeting, or keeping your friends up to date on facebook all blur the boundaries between our work and personal lives, but employers and workers alike are still struggling to adjust. Arbitration service ACAS has issued guidance to employers on how to manage the challenges and risks of social networking, from workplace bullying, recruitment, performance management to defamation and disciplinaries.
It's clear many employers need the prompt - research last year showed only 16% of UK employees were aware of any company guidelines in this area. Your employer may be happy that you can pick up work email on the move with a smart phone, but less chuffed when you start using it to swop LOLcats with your friends in working hours, or to tweet about a client’s disgusting personal habits. Unlike a comment in a pub, a status update, blogpost or tweet can be copied, viewed and saved many times, and reach a wider audience. This means a much higher chance that your whinge about your disastrous project could do real damage to your company’s reputation, and also that your boss could find out about it.
There have been plenty of high-profile cases, such as the women who was sacked (on facebook) for her status update about how she hated her job and her ‘pervy boss’, having forgotten she’d ‘Friended’ him previously. In one recent case though, the Tribunal ruled that a worker had been unfairly dismissed, after she was sacked for stating on Facebook, “I think I work in a nursery and I do not mean working with plants”. The ruling stated that the company hadn’t properly looked into the real impact of the comments, and had not considered discipline short of dismissal as a more proportionate response to actions by a member of staff with a good record.
Employers need clear guidance, and proper procedures, before sacking people for comments that would have passed unnoticed in the pub. According to research last year, 70% of UK workers were unaware whether their company had any policies or guidelines around the use of social media. If your workplace is one of those with no guidance for staff on the subject – maybe it’s time you or your union rep raised it with your HR department.