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Social media: Can employers afford to switch off?

By • Sep 10th, 2012 • Category: Shipping Law

Maritime Law Podcast from Coracle Online and international law firm Ince & Co

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In this podcast we look at Social Media and ask, Can employers afford to switch off?

Social media has revolutionised the way people share information in their personal and professional lives. While this offers numerous business advantages, in the professional arena employers must also be alive to the risks of employee misuse.

Typical issues include:
What can be done to prevent employees Tweeting, or posting Facebook comments about the organisation, colleagues or clients, that create liabilities for the employer and form the basis of claims against it, that conflict with its commercial interests, or cause reputational harm?

Who owns the connections stored in an employee’s personal LinkedIn account? What if those relationships were made during the course of the employee’s employment using the employer’s resources? How can the employer “police” what happens to those LinkedIn
connections when the employee leaves?

The surge in popularity of smartphones, owned by employees and operated using a mobile network to which the employer has no access, means that “traditional” methods of employer control such as monitoring of emails and blocking of specific websites may fail to work. What steps may be taken to mitigate this?

There have been relatively few reported cases on these issues to date, but a lesson is emerging. Employers best protect themselves from the risks of reputational or financial harm, and from claims by disgruntled employees or third parties who believe they may have suffered such loss, when they have a social media policy in place. The policy should balance a number of factors including the employer’s attitude to the use of social media at work, the nature of the employer’s business, and individuals’ rights to privacy and freedom of expression. The policy should also clearly communicate what social media usage
the employer considers to be acceptable and unacceptable and, if worded appropriately, the policy can apply to employees both during and outside of working hours and whether they are accessing social media using their own or their employer’s equipment.

It is also important that the policy is backed up with staff training, tied into other HR policies of the employer, such as those covering computer use and disciplinary matters, and reinforced with suitable terms in employment contracts.