By Kirsty Senior, Co-founder and Director of citrusHR

There’s always something being shared on social media – and sometimes your employees might share something you don’t want them to.

Ok, so they’ll use platforms like Twitter and Facebook etc. to communicate with their friends and family – but what if they start making comments about work, or even worse say something that’s really offensive? Would you know what to do?

The power of social media

It’s a fairly current issue for many employers, and can land them in the limelight for all the wrong reasons. For example, the story of Rayhan Qadar; a young stockbroker at the firm Hargreaves Lansdown in Bristol. His tweet – “Think I just hit a cyclist. But Im late for work so had to drive off lol” – landed him with a whole lot of negative attention that meant his employer had to quickly terminate his employment.

Obviously, that’s a fairly embarrassing error on the part of a young employee. But Game Retail Ltd. v Laws presented a very serious case of misuse that led to dismissal.

This tribunal case covered an employee – now ex-employee – who was accused of posting very offensive messages on Twitter. A complaint was made and he was dismissed, however he tried to argue it was unfair.

His argument fell on deaf ears it seems. As although he argued his account was personal and he didn’t specifically associate himself with the company, the comments made were very public and he had not attempted to restrict any of his followers. He also knew that 65 of the company’s stores followed him.

So this, and the point that he was in fact responsible for Twitter activity for Game Retail, made the ordeal somewhat embarrassing for the company.

Finally, and as a most extreme example, is the most recent story of a paramedic sharing selfies with dying patients in the Russian city of Kirov. Whilst not something that will happen at all often – I hope – it highlights the potential of social media to cause real offence and damage.

What can you do as an employer?

In each of these cases, there may well have been a policy stating something about employees’ personal use of social media. Something that I would certainly suggest implementing. This allows you to alert staff to how you expect them to behave when online, where there is potential for them to cast a bad (or good) light on your organisation.

This could cover guidance on security settings you would suggest, and also what is unacceptable – e.g. sharing offensive material, using offensive language, or making comments about customers or even colleagues.

It might be that you include it in your disciplinary policy, but you may wish to create an entirely separate policy for this. Especially if you work in a sector where social media is an important part of work.

One such sector which embraces the world of social media is in hair and beauty. Sharing images of a new do quickly online being really popular. It’s also a great way to attract new clients and show off work – but they need to be careful their employees aren’t advertising their skills to a potential employer!

Whether it’s also good policy to make ‘friends’ with clients over Facebook is a grey area here too, and in any business really. It’s essential that staff, and their managers, consider the implications of this in order to protect the company as a whole; they may not want to see pictures of their hairdresser’s boozy night out, especially if they have a trim booked in the next day! But then, too many restrictions could also stifle a great way to communicate with customers.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal have yet to give any, even general, guidance on this aspect of employment, so in the meantime it’s left to the employer to minimise any uncertainty about what is or isn’t acceptable.