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Do you have internet trolls within your organisation?

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In an age where electronic communication is expanding through the use of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, companies are confronted with the consequences that social media can have on workplace relations and company image.

What happens outside work?

Social media in the workplace can be a valuable tool for businesses by way of promotion and marketing, however it can also cause serious problems when employees choose to post outbursts on the internet potentially defaming businesses and diminishing reputations. 

It is becoming increasingly clear that employers need to do more to prevent employees posting defamatory content (not just work-related) on social media sites. Recently a leading London law firm had to suspend one of its senior associates when he posted a number of abusive messages over Europe’s refugee crisis on his personal twitter account.

Impose a policy

All employers should have a social media policy, but it is especially important for those who have a presence on social media, or rely on it for business purposes. It is equally important if employees identify themselves on social media as working for the company, or if they use social media as a marketing tool for their job.

It will be easier for employers to take action against an employee for inappropriate social media use if they have a social media policy in place. A good policy will educate employees on the purpose of the policy, what sort of behaviour is not tolerated, and that disciplinary action may be a consequence of any breaches of the policy. It is also vital that employees are aware of the existence of the policy and how they can access it.

 

How to handle employees

Sanctions for employees who go against the policy should be decided on a case-by-case basis. If comments on social media are of a harassing or discriminatory nature, or breach confidentiality this could be deemed gross misconduct, for which termination may be appropriate. 

For less serious situations and first time offenders, it may be more appropriate to take the employee aside and investigate what lead to the post and why the employee felt the need to put it on social media. If the cause of the outburst can be determined, both the employer and the employee can work together to try and resolve it, especially if the issue is work related. For other situations, a warning (either first or final) may be more appropriate.

If you decide to terminate an employee’s employment because of a serious misuse of social media, be sure to collect all the appropriate evidence and documents before addressing it with the employee. 

Depending on where and how the employee has posted their views, it may have been seen by some of the company’s clients or customers. It may be beneficial to let clients or customers know that the company has taken action against the offending employee. Being proactive about repairing your reputation is important, and letting your contacts know that you have taken steps to resolve any social media outbursts to ensure they don’t happen again will go a long way to ensure the trust and confidence of your clients and customers.

Finally

You should ensure employees are aware of the company’s grievance procedure. If employees are encouraged to bring grievances to the attention of their managers they will feel less compelled to turn to social media to vent their anger. 

A social media policy can have many benefits, but an employer should make sure it is written in a way that can allow changes so that it keeps pace with the evolution of social media.

Chris Cook

By Chris Cook

Chris is a partner and head of employment at SA Law

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