Is It OK To Monitor Employees’ Social Media?

Whether it is legal to monitor employees’ social media is a question employers often ask me, and it always brings two thoughts to my mind.

  1. Do you have good policies in place to define the use and monitoring of social media?
  2. Is there an underlying behaviour or performance problem which makes you feel it is necessary to monitor employees’ social media activity?

What Is Social Media?

We may think the term ‘social media’ refers only to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat et al, but social media covers the array of apps and tools that we now have at our fingertips on smartphones, tablets and computers.

The use of social media has undergone an explosion over recent years, with many businesses facilitating it to communicate with their staff, customers and directly between team members.

Boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable usage during work hours, and what behaviour employers can reasonably expect from your team, have become blurred.

A quick online search returns a wealth of anecdotal estimates about the amount of working time staff waste on social media each day. Still, one thing is abundantly 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.

If you decide to monitor employees’ social media, it is critical that you, as an employer, stay on the right side of the law. If you are in any doubt, always seek professional advice.

Developing A Social Media Policy

When deciding whether to monitor employees’ social media, 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 your policy contains any element relating to acceptable usage, then you must be very clear about what your limitations 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 cyberbullying, while also allowing your staff freedom of speech.

I would recommend that when you develop or review your social media 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 procedures for social media abuses should match your criteria for offline behaviour. For example; if an employee is subjecting another to online bullying, the disciplinary action should reflect that which would be applied if the bullying was 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 surrounding what is and is not acceptable, how much commercial information they can share and the extent to which they can express opinions.

If employees blog or tweet 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 means a clear acceptable policy is 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 essential to ensure this doesn’t merely mask the problem by using delayed sending functions.

If you are monitoring the content of people’s email accounts, they need to be made aware that you monitor employees’ social media, including email – together with your usage and retention protocols – so they have a fair opportunity to comply.

Get Expert Advice And Guidance

So, back to the original question, are you legally allowed to monitor employees social media? To summarise, the answer is:

Yes – 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, please book an appointment for an initial consultation. I look forward to hearing from you.

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