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Misuse of social media in the British work place has been a massive issue for employers all over the country. From issues surrounding misuse of time for which you are being paid to perform a job (time theft) to freedom of speech and privacy invasion complaints, the UK legal profession has its work cut out trying to make sense of the potential billions lost by companies whose employees or even consumers are seen to be “misusing” the social network.
ACAS has published a series of advice sheets on the misuse of social media and what that means for prosecution and/or defence. In particular, new research commissioned by ACAS has developed some advisories for employers designed to help them forestall social media misuse – and to assist in prosecution where that misuse still exists.
The guidelines advise that companies draw up a clear, no nonsense policy on the use of social networking tools while employed by the company, or while working on company time. In this way, employers can clearly point to employees in contravention of such a policy document – and in turn of course the lawyers and law firms conducting a prosecution or defence of such an employee have much more solid evidence with which to work.
Part of the guideline suggests that companies need to define the basic lines of reasonable and unreasonable social media use on the part of their employees. One of the suggested definitions of unreasonable is something that is likely to impact n the company in a negative way.
Essentially the ACAS guidelines are askingUKcompanies to treat electronic behaviour in the same way that non electronic behaviour is treated. In this sense, employees who spend time messaging their friends while at work would be treated in the same way as employees who use company time to make endless personal phone calls – occasionally is probably OK, but all the time is grounds for a warning and disciplinary procedures.
The ACAS guidelines are there to help companies protect themselves and their workers by giving a clear definition of what is and what is not acceptable electronic behaviour. The ACAS reports do not themselves seek to define what is or is not acceptable electronic behaviour, it is important to note: rather they are there to assist others in defining that to their own satisfaction.
Benefits of having a written policy on social network use include protecting a company against liability for the actions of its workers; ensuring that employees know exactly what can and cannot be said about their company, and what can and cannot be said while being seen to work for that company; and helping employees to keep their private lives separate from their professional lives.
For lawyers and law firms the advice is clearly useful. Written policies mean much more definable cases in which wrong is done, or right may be defended. It also encourages businesses, of course, to seek legal advice when drawing up these policies, to ensure they don’t contravene the rights of their clients or employees.