News & Views

ACAS publishes social networking guidance for employers

BY Richard Woods
Employment law
BG Purple

ACAS has recently released a new research paper on the effects of social networking websites on employer/employee relationships.

You can access the guidance by clicking here.

The paper offers guidance for HR professionals and managers tackling the minefield of social networking at work and recommends that all employers implement a social networking policy. According to the paper only one in ten employers currently has a social networking policy; however, given the explosion in popularity of sites such as facebook and twitter, employers may be facing a ticking time bomb by failing to provide guidelines for employees.  

The potential for online clashes between employers and employees is on the rise. For example, how should an employer react when faced with an employee grumbling about work online? Or, worse, making serious allegations about working practices that could damage the business’ reputation?  

These kinds of issues could land employees in hot water and facing serious disciplinary action. However, without a policy in place it is difficult for both employers and employees to know when lines have been crossed and what the consequences should be. Disciplining employees on the basis of online activity also opens employers to the threat of HR claims if an employee can show that the employer used online information, such as sexual orientation, to mount a disciplinary investigation.  

Businesses also need to consider the possibility of employees using Facebook to bully or harass their colleagues. Even though derogatory comments or bullying behaviour might take place away from the workplace, if this creates an offensive or threatening atmosphere at work, employers could be faced with a harassment claim.  

Employers should also exercise caution in their own online activities, particularly during recruitment. According to ACAS, 27% of UK employers make use of the online profiles of prospective candidates in recruitment processes. While this is perfectly legal, recruiters should bear in mind that HR legislation covers potential employees as well as current ones. The danger for employers is that the more personal information available about candidates, the more scope there is for HR in selection. According to ACAS, around 8% of tribunal claims concern complaints about application processes.  

It’s not all doom and gloom for employers, however, as social networking can often be used boost the organisation’s online profile online. For example, employees could be encouraged to blog about their employer’s business, or the business itself could make use of microblogging on Twitter and Facebook to keep clients and potential clients abreast of company news.   

Clients can access LAW’s Social Media Policy in the Client Area of our website.  

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