Otherwise known as “it’s a free country and I have the right to say what I want wherever I want”. Well that’s mostly true but there are limits
English law has long established the rules about what we can say about each other and what redress might be sought by a person who has been “wronged” by another individual. This is generally known as Defamation.
You can defame a person in one of two ways:
- Slander – where the defaming comment is made verbally and by gestures; and
- Libel – where the defaming comment is published in a permanent form, e.g. a newspaper, broadcast or stage production.
A person who has been defamed has a right of remedy through the courts but the process is time consuming and costly.
Where does social media fit into this and what can a company do if an employee decides to make derogatory comments about their colleagues at work, their employer and its customers, suppliers and clients?
The employer may be able to pursue the remedy above but is that suitable? How can a company have a swifter more practical remedy? Have a social media policy.
A social media policy allows you to establish clear rules on the extent to which employees may use social media at work and on what employees can and cannot say online.
A policy can prevent employees from posting inappropriate material out of thoughtlessness. Many employees when faced with disciplinary action for what they have posted online, often react with surprise and indignation. They may not have realised that the content could be seen by a potentially unlimited audience and have not appreciated that it might be inappropriate to post certain content on social networks.
Drawing up a social media policy is a good way to raise awareness of the issue and inform all staff of what is acceptable and what is not.
The lack of a clear social media policy will be a big challenge for an employer who wants to take disciplinary action over pictures or posts which they consider inappropriate or irresponsible as the law has not yet settled on a clear set of rules on what is and is not acceptable for employees to upload on social media sites.
This presents an employer with the opportunity to step in and set the boundaries by adopting a policy approach. This will avoid having to rely on the law and trying to infer from existing rules that an employee is in breach of their terms of employment.
You can develop your own boundaries and communicate them to employees. you can create a set of rules which are bespoke to your organisation and you will be in a stronger position to enforce your policy and control what employees are saying about your business online.
A social media policy can also be a place where you set controls and standards on business usage of social media and give guidance on the usage of social media in the recruitment process.
In conclusion, why would you not have a social media policy?