Further to a previous blog about managing digital assets with staff (posted by Nicola on 21 November 2011) employers must be extra vigilant about employees’ use of social medial – both while at work and outside of working hours. Social media is ever more frequently being used by people to express both positive and negative events that happen in their lives. Unless people are very careful with their privacy settings, a seemingly innocuous comment about an employer, colleague or client can be an announcement to the ‘world at large’ and cause significant damage to the employer’s reputation. Courts in New Zealand, just like rest of the world, are seeing an increase in the number of cases involving employees who have vented gripes about work on social media sites, resulting in their employment relationships being terminated. Regardless of whether such comments are made during work hours or not (and keeping in mind that even employees who are not provided with access to computers or whose computer access is restricted to work related websites only, can access social media during work hours provided they have a smart phone), if the comments might damage the employer’s business in some way, may adversely affect working relationships of employees, or undermine the trust and confidence required between an employer and an employee, they can provide a legitimate reason to terminate the employment relationship. However, employers who become aware that an employee is making disparaging remarks about their employment on a social networking site, must be careful to investigate the issue properly. A number of well-known New Zealanders, including John Key, have become the victims of twitter parodies; employers must ensure that it is actually the employee in question who is making the remarks before they go too far down the disciplinary track. As always, it is better to have a fence at the top of the cliff rather than an ambulance at the bottom. In order to reduce the risk of employees bringing the employer into disrepute on social media sites, we recommend having a clear and comprehensive social medial / social networking policy. The possible outcomes of making negative comments about the employer, its staff or its customers should be highlighted to all employees at the outset, as you will find in most cases where employees have negatively discussed their employer on a social networking site they simply have not considered the possible consequences – including the potential number of viewers.
By Chris Patterson