Bath Business News Expert Panel – Publish: but don’t be damned

January 23, 2013

In the latest of Bath Business Newsweekly Expert Panel series, Sean McDonough, employment law specialist for Mogers in Bath, explores what action businesses should be taking when they use social media

To libel – to publish or broadcast an untruth which will harm a person’s reputation.

This is a fact few would have needed to consider until the advent of social media. Yet it seems many still aren’t aware of it.

Social media is here to stay, like it or not. But using it counts as publishing and employers and staff need to be aware of what they write or repeat.

The number of high profile cases of people maligned as a result of a click seems to be increasing.

Few seemed to realise comments via social media or online networking sites is a form of publication which means legal action can be taken against the person making the observation.

But please do remember that as with most things, there are many positive benefits with social media too.

It is a tool useful for keeping in touch with your employees, your customers or service users and it can be fun and show a more relaxed side of a corporate company or business.

It really needs a business policy so everyone knows where they stand and it will help to safeguard your company against liability for the actions of an employee.

And if you’re up front about your views, you can help control a 21st century invention upon which pretty much anything can be and is said.

You should aim for a win-win approach by giving employees reasonable usage and creating a safety net with a social media policy.

Employment law isn’t different for social media – if an employee has breached your social media policy and you want to take disciplinary action or dismiss them, the same rules and procedures apply as for any other employee misconduct.

But as with all policies, there’s no point having one if staff don’t know it exists and what will happen if you don’t adhere to the terms.

Keep it current and updated – advances in technology are such that it is liable to change often and quickly.

You should already have a policy for email and Internet use so use this as your base.

Areas to include are acceptable behaviour; confidential information disclosure; defamation and negative publicity; blogging and Tweeting and data protection.

Also if you have social media for your company for which employees are responsible for keeping in order, make sure they know what they can disclose and the range of opinions they may express.

Be clear that if they have any doubts, don’t do it without asking – it’s better to have a delay on a social media response than have one which will cause problems for all.

Your policy needs to say what your disciplinary procedures are if a policy is breached and this should be similar in an office situation.

Basically treat the virtual world as you would the non-virtual one.

And don’t forget traditional methods of communication too – use your Intranet, noticeboards, newsletters, training and meetings to tell people what you’re doing and why.

And remember it may seem that a member of staff is always using social media but if she or he is productive at work – does it really matter? Probably not – providing that policy is in place!




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