We’ve all heard someone in their 30s (or older) say how grateful they are not to have grown up with social media. The same may be true for leaders and business owners, wishing they weren’t operating their organization in the age of the internet, where every little thing they do and say—and their employees do and say—can live in infamy on the world wide web.
Of course, the internet and social media can be invaluable tools for organizations. As much as social media can be instrumental in creating a positive brand identity, it can also play a role in misrepresenting your brand.
The line between private and public is blurred in the world of social media.
The idea of an online persona versus a professional persona is a thing of the past. If employees—or anyone—are posting publicly, the line between personal and professional is virtually non-existent. If people are able to connect a personal profile to where someone works, then that boundary is gone.
While everyone has the right to privacy, things shared publicly are not exempt from scrutiny—whether from the public eye, coworkers, or management. Employers have a responsibility to maintain their values and public persona, which includes having some say over what employees can post publicly to social media.
Having a social media policy for employees is important for both ensuring expectations are clearly communicated and reputation management.
HR Reporter explains that “if your employees are engaging in online activity that could harm the company's reputation or the product or render that employee unable to perform his or her duty satisfactorily, you want to be able to turn to something and say, ‘Look, we have this in writing, you were made aware of it and there are consequences that follow’”.
However, research shows that only “one in five employers in Canada have a social media policy”, which is a stark contrast to the 86% of employers that “say they would fire an employee based on inappropriate posts”.
Of course, there is a disconnect between these two statements. If employers want to be able to let employees go because of their social media posts, they need to have a social media policy for employees that clearly defines what is considered appropriate and what happens when posts fall outside those parameters.
In an example from the same HR Reporter article, an organization was penalized for not having a social media policy for employees, when a “B.C. worker was fired for derogatory and defamatory comments on social media a few years back, but a court found that she had not been previously warned that her conduct could lead to discipline including dismissal, and awarded her wrongful dismissal damages”.
Without a social media policy for employees, employers will not have clear grounds for termination and potentially be faced with wrongful dismissal claims. It’s always a good idea to set up a policy proactively, rather than be faced with an issue down the road and not have any procedures in place.
Some organizations may be in favour of trying to ban certain social media platforms entirely while employees are at work. While this isn’t completely unreasonable—such as with the news last month that Canada banned TikTok from government devices—it may only be enforceable if the employee is using a company device (such as cell phones or computers) to access the site. Otherwise, it’s difficult to both monitor and enforce.
Whatever your workplace decides is appropriate social media usage both on and off the clock should be clearly outlined in a social media policy for employees. We advise speaking with an employment lawyer to determine the best parameters to include in a policy for your organization.
Social media policies can be standalone or a part of your organization’s overall code of conduct policy. Ideally, the policy is then included in onboarding materials for employees to review and sign off on signifying their understanding. The policy should be clear and concise, ensuring there’s no room for misinterpretation.
A well-crafted social media policy for employees can:
- Ensure that employees know what is appropriate to post on social media
- Create clear standards for brand identity
- Outline procedures for sharing company announcements and who should be sharing what in the event of emergencies (i.e. service outages)
- Protect your brand from privacy and security threats
- Empower the organization to take action against those employees that do not follow the policy