Social media now provides a platform through which our opinions have a potential reach of over two billion people. Whilst there are many positive attributes of social media usage from an advocacy or communication perspective, use of social media channels can very quickly turn problematic when used to convey dissatisfactions about a person or organisation.
In the absence of adequate security settings, sensitive information and personal opinions can be seen far beyond their intended network, including work colleagues and superiors.
If an organisation itself chooses to use social media for purposes such as employee engagement or marketing, a range of obligations must also be fulfilled to protect itself from misconduct.
In order to shield itself from these risks and to formalise what is considered unacceptable behaviour for employees, organisations must develop a comprehensive social media policy.
Risk and liability
Australia does not have specific laws in place regulating the use of social media by organisations but the country’s existing laws, such as the Privacy Act 1988 and Competition and Consumer Act 2010, can be applied in a social media context.
Using social media as a business tool comes with risks such as compliance to consumer laws, copyright laws, gambling and lotteries laws, accountability for posts of non-employees on the organisation’s page, and the publication of deceptive materials.
For example, if a corporation shares misleading and deceptive content such as inaccurate information about products or services, it may attract penalties of up to $1,100,000.
Amongst existing laws is the requirement for organisations to ensure the health and safety of staff at work, which includes protecting them from workplace bullying and harassment as a result of comments from social media.
As a potential avenue for bullying to occur, organisations are required to monitor social media usage to pre-emptively tackle the issue, which can manifest in forms such as offensive language, misinformation, and exclusion of an individual from workplace activities.
Employers who fail to take reasonable steps to prevent workplace bullying, and individuals who engage in bullying conduct, may face orders to ensure the bullying is stopped and financial penalties may also be applied within the Australian Capital Territory and New South Wales.
Organisations must also be aware that the use of social media by employees both inside and outside of the workplace carries further risks such as defamation of co-workers, the inadvertent disclosure of confidential and sensitive information, and comments which could cause the company reputational damage.
Setting up a social compliance strategy
Regardless of the extent to which an organisation chooses to engage with social media, it should have in place a policy outlining its usage that is unique to the organisation and tailored to suit different working cultures, social media strategies and commercial goals.
A social media compliance strategy should detail required standards of conduct that explains when and how an employee’s use of social media may impact their employment. This should outline behaviours which would be considered harmful to the organisation and result in the termination of employment.
Decisions that organisations must make include the extent to which they allow access to social media platforms within the workplace and on workplace devices, and whether they will monitor employees’ use of social media. If an organisation decides to block access to social media in the workplace and monitor employees use on its devices and network, it should ensure that it is acting in accordance with policies that have been made available to employees.
To mitigate the risk of carrying out disciplinary action for improper use, regular training should be conducted to educate employees on the organisations’ expectations and to make sure that that staff fully understand the policy.
The bottom line
Whether addressing the impact that an employee’s behaviour may have on colleagues or ensuring that an organisation is compliant in its use of social media, a thorough policy is essential to defining how social media may be used and educating staff on where the risks in social media usage lie.
In instances when an employee does post defamatory, misleading, or otherwise problematic statements about their employer or colleagues, an established policy will ensure that the organisation has standing from which to act upon the issue and reprimand the employee commensurate to the misconduct.
Additionally, implementing a policy will help prevent the commercial misuse of social media platforms – protecting your organisation’s reputation, shielding the individual from legal action, and improving staff wellbeing.
About the author
Simon Wilkins is the General Manager of LexisNexis Australia, a leading provider of legal, regulatory and business information and analytics. In his role, Simon is responsible for setting the strategy for the region and is dedicated to building a culture that supports growth and innovation to deliver exceptional value to customers.