Summary of the ACAS guidance on social networking

October 18, 2011

With the relentless rise of social network sites such as facebook and twitter, employers have unwittingly become exposed to a raft of issues including reduced productivity and irate employees venting their anger towards employers online. As a result, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) has recently published guidance for employers on how to control the impact of social networking on your company. Hrlaw gives you the low-down on the most significant elements of the guidance.

Recruitment

Employers increasingly use social networks to place advertisements for job vacancies and ACAS recommends that companies embrace this trend. This seems sensible as it is undoubtedly a simple way of reaching a broad spectrum of prospective candidates.

The more interesting aspect of the guidance relates to the use of facebook and other sites as a way to vet candidates. The guidance states that employers should be careful in this respect as it could make them vulnerable to discrimination claims. Whilst true in theory, the likelihood of bringing such a claim is unlikely as it would seem difficult for a claimant to argue that perception of their social network page was the reason for not being hired, unless the employer mentions it in an interview or leaves evidence of having viewed the page. However, in order to avoid any such risk, the employer is better off steering clear of this as a recruitment tool.

Managing performance

With 30 million Facebook users in the UK, thousands of employees across the country are accessing social networks whilst at work. The prevalence of smartphones means that they may be doing so invisibly as well.

The difficulty for most employers lies in achieving a balance and to a certain extent this will be dependant on the type of company; a technology/media company for example might derive more benefits through use of these sites. What stands out in the guidance is the idea that employers should make their stance on social networking clear to employees at induction meetings and in policies.

If an employer senses that these sites are being accessed too frequently, Hrlaw suggests sending a blanket email to employees, reminding them of the firm’s social media policy in a friendly manner. If a more subtle approach is desired, updating the policy and alerting employees to the change would be an effective method. If certain individuals continue to use sites excessively then an email raising the issue should be sent directly to the offender, or a meeting with HR arranged, and if no improvement is seen then disciplinary action may be appropriate.

Defamation

Another big problem for employers is the posting of libellous comments about the company, which have the potential to reach vast numbers of readers.

The notable point in the guidance is that employers should be careful not to overstate the effect of comments made about them. In a recent case, it was found that an employee had been unfairly dismissed after making “relatively minor” derogatory comments about his employer. The employer should therefore make a judgement about where it stands in terms of balancing confidentiality with freedom of speech and then translate this outlook into its policy.

Conclusion

The most important conclusion to be drawn from the guidance is that for employers to be in control of the effect of social networking on their business, a comprehensive policy must be drawn up which addresses each of the ramifications of usage. Fox Williams can help you with this!
Whilst the guidance does not have legal effect and is highly unlikely to be referred to by the Employment Tribunal in the event of there being a dispute, it does serve as a useful aid to employers when drafting policies.

Further to simply having a social media policy, employers must ensure that it is kept up-to-date and in line with this quickly developing area. Making sure employees are aware of these changes is imperative and training should also be considered. In the event of there being misconduct, appropriate action should be taken.

Ultimately, social media‘s exponential rise is set to continue and the ways in which its negative effects on employers can be minimised will inevitably evolve with it.


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