Where do we stand when we mix social media and business?
I recently attended a social media workshop in London, held by Paul Tunnah from PharmaPhorum. Amongst the subjects discussed were social networking etiquette, hashtags, SEO and marketing technique. There was also a session on legal issues surrounding social media and emerging technologies.
A lawyer from Matthew Arnold and Baldwin LLP came in to discuss some legal considerations surrounding social media.
Two of the most common examples he had experienced were where a person had called in sick to work and then colleagues had seen via social media that they were in the pub/at the zoo/in bed/on holiday! The questions raised were whether an employer could use information from employee's personal profiles or 'pages' as evidence against them if they decided to take disciplinary action.
The problem arises because social media is such a new trend, and the legal profession hasn’t quite caught up yet. There are still grey areas. However, employers have had the weight of the law on their side when they have sacked employees for cases such as this, but also in using social media to complain, or offensively comment on, the business that they work for. Big names such as Tesco and Argos have sacked employees in the past for writing harmful comments about the company on their facebook profiles.
We were told that in order to make sure that an employee cannot claim unfair dismissal, the best thing a company can do is plainly state what is acceptable and what isn’t in the company handbook.
If someone does something that they shouldn’t, and it hasn’t been clearly stated in a contract, people can argue that they didn’t realize that what they were doing was wrong. Even though employers may argue that a certain amount of common sense is required, it is better to state the rules in plain English to make sure people can't appeal it.
In relation to people skiving off and then writing what they are up to on Facebook – an employer can only take action if they haven’t actively looked for it or done anything underhand to gain the information. So if one colleague saw another’s Facebook status and told her boss what she had seen for instance, an employer could use the information just as if the member of staff had seen the offender in the pub (for example) herself. Again, employers have a better case if they have outlined this kind of thing in their company policy documents.
In regards to Linkedin, there has been some dispute when employees have left a job, about who then owns their Linkedin contacts. With this, in most cases the employers have won the right to take employee's contacts.
However, there have been a few cases when employees have won. This has only been when they have clearly differentiated which connections are their own, and which they have met through the company. They had recorded when they connected with people and therefore managed to keep certain connections. However, in one instance a company won their case and was given an employee's whole list - including their family contacts etc.
So, maybe just a few things for us to keep in mind; both from an employers’ point of view, and an employees’.
There is no real black and white, right or wrong answers yet as no real 'laws' have been put in place. I think it's just a case of people using their common sense and employers covering their backs; by setting in stone what employees can and can’t do with regard to the internet.
A couple of good links to look at: