By Edward Jones, employment lawyer, Riverview Solicitors

In the age of social media, an employee’s conduct outside of working hours is increasingly important when it comes to an organisation’s reputation. In April, coverage of Kent’s Youth Police Complaints and Crime Commissioner, Paris Brown, shows how quickly a throw away comment on a personal twitter account, can quickly escalate and affect your reputation before you have a chance to intervene. Even if behaviour doesn’t make the news, it could still have a knock on effect to customers choosing a competitor over you.

Developing a social media policy will allow you to communicate to employees what is expected of their on-line behaviour. You may choose to include one or all of the following points in your policy:

Employees must not:

• Identify themselves as working for [insert your company name] or use the Company’s logo, unless authorised to do so by [insert the name and job title of a senior member of staff];
• Express personal views about the Company, its employees, its clients or any other individual or organisation that could be seen as offensive or defamatory;
• Comment on the Company’s position on any issue (including but not limited to its strategies, policies, plans, processes, history, appointments, finances, acquisitions, recruitment, pay and benefits);
• Disclose confidential information. Employees are required to comply with the Company’s Data Protection Policy in relation to confidential information, which may include but is not limited to personal information about individuals, client details, financial and commercially sensitive information about the Company or its clients and future business plans. Confidential information can include photos and videos;
• Breach copyright, for example by using intellectual property (text or images) belonging to another person or organisation without their consent or and/or without acknowledgement;
• Post any text or image in relation to any other individual that could be perceived as discrimination, bullying, harassment or victimisation. Employees are required to comply with the Company’s Equal Opportunities Policy in relation to all postings on social media websites.

Employees must:

• Take all necessary steps to avoid identity theft, for example by not revealing their address, bank details or passport number;
• Alert their line manager if they become aware of any breach of this policy.

You must also outline that your company reserves the right to monitor employees’ use of its facilities to access social networking websites. Details of this should be set out in an IT, Communication and Monitoring Policy which should be made available to all employees at all times.

Employers should suggest that if an employee discloses their affiliation to the company in social media they should also add “the views on this profile do not represent the views of my employer" to their social media profiles, in an attempt to protect the company from any negative effect of the employees’ on-line behaviour.

Finally, learn from the very public lessons of others. When HMV announced it was going into administration, news of redundancies became public very quickly after employees with access to the official HMV twitter account posted tweets from the official HMV account venting their frustrations about losing their jobs. This caused significant embarrassment and certain damage to HMV’s reputation. Therefore, you need to ensure that any disaffected employees, particularly those with access to the company’s twitter account, are reminded of their duties while still in employment, even if they are to lose their job. You should also be aware of how to block their access to the company’s twitter account, if it becomes necessary to limit public embarrassment. After all, prevention is far better than cure.

About the author
Edward Jones is an employment lawyer with Riverview Solicitors . Further information about this and other topics can be found by registering for free on the Riverview Law website: www.riverviewlaw.com and you can follow them on Twitter @RiverviewLawSME