Ask the expert: Social networking sites

We have been receiving a large number of calls on the employment law advice line regarding the use of social networking sites, such as Facebook, twitter and MySpace.

We have been receiving a large number of calls on the employment law advice line regarding the use of social networking sites, such as Facebook, twitter and MySpace.

The increasing popularity of social networking sites is a growing concern in practices and brings a variety of potential issues.

Twenty-nine per cent of UK companies have advised that they block or discourage social media use in the workplace and 68 per cent of managers monitor employees’ internet activities. It is not only the company’s use of computers that can be a problem but also employees using their own smart phones to access the internet during their working day.

It would be wise for practices to have internet, email and social networking policies which set restrictions on the systems, so that they cannot be accessed during working time. Excessive and continued high usage of the internet during work time can lead to disciplinary action being invoked and should be included as part of the disciplinary policy.

It is also important to advise employees that where the practice believes they have genuine cause to do so, employees’ social network sites may be accessed, especially when it is felt comments may bring the practice into disrepute.

Employees who use social media sites, such as Facebook, must exercise care when choosing to identify themselves as an employee of the practice as readers might consider information posted as being representative of the views of the practice.

It is therefore suggested that employees familiarise themselves with the following guidelines when posting information on a blog or website.

Practices should ensure that they include these guidelines as part of their policy:

  • Employees must be respectful in all communications and blogs related to or referencing the practice, any associated company and/or any colleagues, patients and suppliers.
  • Employees must not use obscenities, profanity or vulgar language.
  • Employees must not use blogs or personal websites to disparage the practice, any associated company and/or any colleagues, patients and suppliers.
  • Employees must not use blogs or websites to harass, bully or intimidate other employees or customers.
  • Employees must not post pictures of patients, suppliers or other employees on the internet.
  • You also may wish to have part of your internal policy that managers are not “friends” with other employees to avoid any potential conflict of interest.

If a situation arises where an employee is off sick but photos have emerged on a Facebook page, you should tread carefully in this area as it could a breach of the employee’s privacy and a breach of Data Protection by accessing their Facebook page.

If the evidence has been brought to the practice’s attention by another member of staff, or the practice can justify why they have accessed the pages, the employee can be spoken to about the matter.

When conducting a return to work interview with the employee, it can be mentioned that there is evidence on Facebook that they appeared to be well enough to be at work. It’s also worth taking into account their previous absence record.

It is a fine line as to how to deal with issues that take place out with the workplace but clearly any remarks that directly affect the practice and those who work in it may be acted on. In these situations, it is advisable to take advice before taking action!

A sample social networking policy can be obtained by emailing employmentlaw@mddus.com