Is it OK to monitor an employee’s social media?

This is a question I am often asked by employers and it makes me think of two things.

The first is, do you have good policies in place to define the use, and monitoring of social media?

The second is, is there an underlying behaviour or performance problem that makes you feel it is necessary to monitor an employee’s social media activity?

What is social media?

Social media is a very broad term used to cover the array of apps and tools that most people now have at their fingertips on smartphones, tablets and computers.

Social media has undergone an explosion of use over recent years with many businesses using it to facilitate communication with their staff, customers and directly between team members. It’s perhaps predictable therefore that the boundaries have become blurred when it comes to what is and isn’t acceptable use in work time, and what behaviour you, as an employer, can reasonably expect from your team.

A quick search online returns a wealth of anecdotal estimates about the amount of working time staff waste on social media each day, but one thing is clear…the inappropriate use of social media has a very real cost for businesses. So, what can you do about it?

The law

Legal considerations include The Human Rights Act 1998, the Data Protection Act 1998 and the more recent GDPR and The Regulations of Investigatory Powers 2000.

These laws cover the extent to which people can expect their privacy to be respected – both at home and in the workplace, how information about employees may be collected and used, and what you, as an organisation, are allowed to do when it comes to covert surveillance.

It is critical that any monitoring you undertake as an employer, keeps you on the right side of the law. If you are in any doubt, always seek professional advice.

Developing a Social Media Policy

Your business needs a policy that clearly defines what you consider acceptable, and unacceptable behaviour for the use of smartphones, internet and online networking sites both during, and outside of working hours. If there is any element of acceptable use, then you must be very clear about what the limitations of that are and how it will be monitored in practice.

Your policies should be robust enough to offer protection to your business’ reputation, protect your staff and management from cyber bullying, whilst also allowing your staff freedom of speech

I would recommend that when you develop, or review your policy, you encourage your staff to participate in the process to help them ‘buy-in’ to it.

Procedures that support the policy

Ideally your disciplinary procedure for social media abuse, should match your criteria for offline behaviour.  For example, if on employee is subjecting another to online bullying, the disciplinary action should reflect that which would be applied if the bullying was taking place face-to-face in the workplace.

Taking this into account, it is important to revisit other policies and procedures so that, as far as possible, examples of unacceptable online behaviour are included.

You must also notify staff that social media activities which impact on the workplace may be monitored.

The employee’s role

It is common for staff to be required to carry out social media activities as part of their role, particularly in SMEs where there may not be a dedicated marketing team. Where this applies to your business you must ensure that employees have clear guidance about what is and is not acceptable, how much commercial information they can share and the extent to which they are able to express opinions.

If employees are responsible for blogging or tweeting on behalf of your business, consider what sign-off or approval processes you need to have in place to protect both your employee and your business.

When it comes to recruitment, you must ensure that potential candidates are not discriminated against by improper screening of their social media profiles.

Email monitoring

Email is an integral part of working life for many, which makes having a clear acceptable use policy vital. With the increased blurring of private and working time many businesses are starting to define the times during which work email may be used. This helps to protect employees from feeling stress or pressure during their personal time and enhances their work-life balance. However, it’s important to ensure this doesn’t simply mask the problem by using delayed sending functions.

If you are monitoring the content of people’s email accounts, they need to be aware of that, together with your usage and retention protocols in order to have a fair opportunity to comply.    

Get expert advice and guidance

So, back to the original question, are you legally allowed to monitor an employee’s social media?

The answer is, to a reasonable extent providing they have been informed that monitoring is taking place and it doesn’t breach their legal rights.

If you need help with any aspect of this complex topic, book an appointment for an initial consultation by clicking here.

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