The Perils of Social Media and How to Avoid Them

1 January 1970

Social media and its potential to threaten both employers and employees has been well publicised recently. Most employers who read of the Human Rights Review Tribunal's decision to award an ex-employee $168,000 (Hammond v Credit Union Baywide) will be concerned to avoid such a fate.  In addition, the amorous Marsh Limited employees’ conduct came to their employer’s knowledge only as result of social media’s power to render what the employees thought was private, as very public.


Both of these cases are of course highly unusual, but on a daily basis it is sensible for an employer to place guidelines around their employees’ use of social media. A social media policy in addition to a general email and internet policy will benefit both parties.


The reasons for needing a social media policy are several. Technology is constantly evolving as are the requirements of employees. No longer is there the obvious division between work and home that there has been in the past. Employees expect to be able to access social media sites at work, and as long as this does not interfere with productivity, allowing this access can enhance employees’ enjoyment of work.  However, employees and their online friends and acquaintances can sometimes post comments that can be damaging to their employer or affect their workplace in various ways. Once posted, damaging comments are permanent, searchable, and able to be accessed and spread worldwide.  It is necessary to set out the employer’s expectations of what is reasonable and what is not, to reduce any room for misunderstandings.


When you are looking at putting a social media policy in place it is good practice to involve your employees in the development of the policy. By involving them in the development of the policy you are much more likely to get compliance with the policy by your employees and also end up with a policy that is workable and practical.


There is a tension between the employee’s right to privacy and the employer’s right to protect its business interests and reputation. As there are clear privacy rules around collection of information, an employer needs to be careful to spell out clearly how the employer is going to monitor on line behaviour and collect information about the employee.


Your policy should provide a clear statement as to what the employer sees as unacceptable use of social media and what standards the employer expects employees to follow in their use of social media. An employer would include in the policy that an employee is responsible for their own, and other people’s, posts on their Facebook page. You should make it clear that online comments will be treated in the same way as comments made in real life and could result in disciplinary action.  Your policy should include examples of online activity and posts that may result in disciplinary action being taken.  As social media promotes the transparency of behaviour and opinions, transparency around the process and implementation in developing your social media policy will be beneficial to your business, and to your employees.

Gillian Spry


Gillian Spry is a Partner in the Employment team at Norris Ward McKinnon. Gillian can be contacted at [email protected]


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