SAS Daniels is warning Greater Manchester businesses to have adequate social media guidance in place ahead of the Christmas party season.
Its Employment Law and HR team is working with businesses across the region to ensure processes, such as social media policies, provide clarity for employees on the do’s and don’ts for both their professional and personal social media channels.
As the use of social media has increased at such a staggering rate, the channels and options available for users have diversified significantly and many businesses have struggled to keep company policies on the subject up to date.
Sociable work events, such as Christmas parties, can be heavily documented on social media by individuals, making it a crucial time to implement relevant guidance.
Jonathan Whittaker, Senior Partner at SAS Daniels, said: “There are a number of laws, including European laws on privacy that can be unwittingly broken by the misuse of social media. Companies that don’t have adequate processes in place to mitigate any risk, in order to protect colleagues, could be leaving themselves open to serious HR issues and even lawsuits.
“Under the European Convention of Human Rights, everybody has the right to respect for their private life. This can be breached if employees are sharing photos of other colleagues on social media channels without their permission. If staff are taking pictures at the Christmas party, they should only be shared with the consent of each person in the picture.
“This is particularly important if the photos in question could be bringing them or the company into disrepute. Depending on different situations, a lapse in judgement could see an issue escalate from breaching privacy laws to potentially more serious law suits including transmission of pornographic material.
“In more serious cases, it could potentially even result in criminal offences. For example, if an employee is using Facebook Live, and live streams a situation in which discriminatory language is used, such as racist or homophobic slurs. This could be considered a public order offence. If they’re insulting a person who retaliates and an argument, or worse, ensues, then it could be a breach of the peace or even an assault case. These are both criminal offences which could not only be grounds for instant dismissal, but carry even further consequences for an individual in the future.
“In most good employment policies there should also be a clear clause on harassment and sexual harassment. The misuse of social media messaging sites such as Facebook Messenger, What’s App and Snapchat, can be a breach of these. For example, if an employee sends a crude message of a sexual nature to someone else, or continues to message a person who had clearly expressed that communication is unwanted, then in most policies this amounts to gross misconduct.
“Whatever the severity of the case, an employee’s impairment of judgment through alcohol is no reason for breaching a social media or employment policy and employers don’t need to make allowances for employees because they have been drinking. It’s up to each individual to behave in an acceptable manner, even at the Christmas party.”
A previous study of more than 110 global businesses found that use of social media in the workplace had significantly increased. More than 70 per cent of the businesses reported that they have had to take disciplinary action against employees, a 35 per cent year-on-year increase. The number of businesses with social media policies had also increased from 60 per cent to 80 per cent and more than half had updated their policies in the last year.
Jonathan added: “It’s crucial that an employer has sufficient guidance in place and that this is widely communicated to employees ahead of the Christmas party season. Taking these preventative steps means you are at an advantage should an issue arise, and you need to take action. Moreover, if the policy is fresh in employees’ minds it’s less likely that you will encounter issues to begin with, as individuals will be more aware of what is expected of their behaviour if it has been reinforced.”