On the news page of our website we recently mentioned a shop worker being sacked via her Facebook page. This is both a dubious employee relations tactic and an unusual turnaround of events when you mix, often, younger employees, social networking sites and their work. Employers are more likely to curse the likes of Facebook, twitter and instant messaging than use it to contact their employees.

The papers love to print banner headlines proclaiming just how much time is lost and productivity wasted by employees spending time during work contacting friends on-line. Employers complain about how difficult it is to know, when an admin person is typing away, whether they are typing up the notes from the last departmental meeting or chatting with their friends.

By their very nature social networking sites are relaxed places to communicate. This can cause further problems to employers. If Jonny, one of your customer service people, twitters that “OMG Harry Halitosis has just walked in” and the unfortunate gent is one of your top customers, you are open to all sorts of threats.

  •  Do any of Harry’s staff follow Jonny on twitter?
  • Worse still has Jonny forgotten that in his quest to have a million followers has he accepted Harry as one?
  • What does it say about your level of client confidentiality?
  • As Harry is a public face of your company and therefore of you what message does it send about how you treat your customers?
  • Lastly you have to worry about whether what Harry has done is libellous and if so, as it was during work time, are you responsible?

It may be difficult to prevent staff using social media and certainly impossible when they are not in work, however if you have the right rules in place you can reduce it’s potentially damaging effect on your business.

 Get a policy.

Do you have a policy in place about use of the internet and email? If so have a look at it to make sure it’s worded to cover the likes of Facebook, MySpace and other such sites. It should state if and when these sites can be accessed and what information, if any, can be divulged about your company. You should also use it to distance yourself from any defamatory statements about other employees, customers or suppliers and set out the disciplinary response you will take if staff do not abide by the policy.

Recently British Airways used this kind of policy in response to a Facebook page set up by cabin crew to discuss their feelings about the ongoing dispute.

More business oriented sites, such as LinkedIn, pose their own set of threats you should be prepared for. If you are not aware of these type of sites they can be described as a 3D CV. People link to people they know mainly through business and join groups of people with similar business interests.

For example if you make and sell pasties to corner shops, there is nothing to stop your salesman joining a pastie sales group and unwittingly letting a competitor know your margins. Again you can’t stop people joining these sites, but you need rules in place to ensure your business is not at risk.

To control the use of twitter and other mobile technology lead forms, you should also instigate a mobile phone policy. Before mobiles became such an everyday item, companies did not allow their employees to have constant access to a landline to call whoever they wanted when they wanted. Most didn’t allow personal calls in to the business except for in emergencies. Just because the employee is using their own (mobile) line and not yours it doesn’t mean they have the right to use their phone during working hours. There is nothing wrong in outlining to them when they can use their phones during working hours, where they must go to use their phones (ie not at their desks or workplace) and in what the circumstances they can use their phone (emergencies only etc). Once again you must also state what the reaction will be should they disregard these rules.

If you want to discuss setting up policies to cover these areas or would like us to help you update your present ones, call us on 0845 224 0048 or email us with your request.