June 28, 2018
Social media has become a wonderful tool for sharing information, connecting with friends and family and building personal and professional networks. Yet it’s also a platform where private thoughts are made public, sometimes to the detriment of the author, as well as their employers.
US Comedian Rosanne Barr recently discovered this harsh truth after her revived TV show was promptly cancelled following a racist Twitter comment. And she’s not alone, you only have to look at the social media controversies that have followed everyone from celebrities to CEOs to realise that the line between personal thoughts and professional responsibilities are starting to blur.
In the wake of yet another social media gaffe and the scandal that followed, it begs the question: At what point do an individual’s personal comments become the business of their employer?
Let’s take a look at this increasingly topical issue.
Many employers, in an effort to help control their online reputations and the behaviour of their employees, are creating social media policies that help influence how their employees share content and interact online. Social media policies are designed to help set out guidelines for how employees of a particular company are allowed to act online, including their comments, personal interactions, and more. Many employers start with a policy that shapes how employees can comment about the company or on behalf of the company, but those policies can also be expanded to include things like discriminatory comments.
Traditionally, Australian courts have been reluctant to uphold the dismissal of employees for private social media posts made in their own time. In order to dismiss an employee for social media activity, the company must prove that the posts contain content that is in some way detrimental to the company itself.
If the posts are made on company time, the lost productivity and failure to adhere to company regulations may be reason enough for disciplinary action. Courts also typically support companies that terminate employment for people who have turned to social media to complain about clients of the company or who share confidential information about their employer.
Many employees believe that if they’re making social media posts on their personal time, it shouldn’t be the business of the company. This is becoming a grey area. Employees are now inextricably linked with the companies they work for. LinkedIn profiles clearly proclaim the current place of employment, while Facebook and other social media platforms leave room for users to mention their employers.
Other websites clearly share information about high-placed employees within the company. It’s impossible to separate employee and company when it comes to online presence–and the comments made by those employees are relatively easy to search and often permanent. Understanding that link can help employees make smarter decisions about what they’re posting online.
Social media has become an intrinsic part of personal and professional life for many people. It’s up to employers to develop a clear plan for how they will manage situations when the lines between personal and professional start to blur.
Need advice on managing employees and Social Media? Call one of our advisers for a confidential discussion on 1300 651 415.