Issues Arising from Social Media in the Workplace

Posted in : Supplementary Articles ROI on 7 June 2013
Catherine O'Flynn
William Fry

William Fry, one of Ireland's largest Law firms produced a social media and employment report which has placed the work practices of both employers and employees under the microscope. Focusing on a number of issues arising from the use of social media in the workplace, the report demonstrates that over 46% of Irish employers do not have a social media policy in place, leaving themselves and their business open to internal disputes, abuse and potential litigation.

Commenting on the report, Catherine O’Flynn, Employment & Benefits Associate at William Fry said, “Our research shows that over 80% of employees are accessing social media sites while at work, spending on average 56 minutes per working day on social media.  Although 40% of companies impose bans on employees accessing sites such as Facebook and Twitter, our research shows that the majority of employees access social media from their personal devices during work hours.  Accordingly, there is limited value in imposing absolute restrictions. Instead, companies should focus on defining realistic limits for access to social media in the workplace.”
 

Who owns social media?

The report also highlights the confusion surrounding ownership of social media accounts and the contacts on those accounts. This is particularly relevant in relation to the business social media platform, LinkedIn.  The most significant challenge presented by this area is what happens to work-related contacts, valuable assets of the employer, when an employee leaves the company. The research shows that only 17% of employers have discussed with their employees the position regarding work-related social media connections when employment ends. Interestingly, 6 out of 10 employees keep work-related contacts and connections on their personal social media accounts but only 3 out of 10 employers know what work-related social media connections their employees have.  As the economy recovers and movement within the job market increases, these issues will arise more frequently.

 
Vicarious Liability

Employers should be mindful that they may be held liable for acts of bullying, harassment or discrimination carried out by employees on social media sites, even if the acts were carried out without the employer’s consent or knowledge.  Although over half of employers say that activity on social media sites should be treated differently if it takes place outside of working hours, the same considerations apply regardless of when the activity takes place.   It will be helpful to an employer’s defence to show that they took practical steps to prevent the act complained of, by having a social media policy which identifies and requires appropriate employee conduct on social media sites.


Brand Protection

As businesses increasingly turn to social media to enhance their reputation and grow, a key issue for employers is the need to set out clear guidelines as to how, what and by whom information relating to the business is communicated.  56% of employers say that they encourage their employees to report negative comments made about the business, however 38% of employees say they would do nothing if they came across negative comments about their employer on social media.

A staggering 73% of employers are not concerned that confidential business information may be posted on social media sites by employees.

This article is correct at 07/06/2013
Disclaimer:

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Catherine O'Flynn
William Fry

The main content of this article was provided by Catherine O'Flynn. Contact telephone number is +353 1 639 5136 or email catherine.oflynn@williamfry.com

View all articles by Catherine O'Flynn