Social Media Use and the Workplace

Employment and Labour

Social media use has become a daily activity for a large portion of the population. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit and other forums are commonly used for personal and business purposes.  Social media is a powerful communication and networking tool; however, improper use can cause serious damage to a company’s reputation, and have a negative impact on employee morale. Despite this many employers do not have effective social media policies in place regarding the use of social media by employees.

Employee conduct on social media has been the subject of both news stories and litigation across Canada. No company wants its reputation to be negatively impacted by a tweet or photo posted by an employee that goes viral.  In order to outline the parameters of what is expected of employees, an effective social media policy needs to be integrated into a company’s existing policies regarding protection of privacy and confidential information, workplace safety, conduct in the workplace, and discipline.   The policy should be reviewed by new and existing employees and training should be provided to ensure that everyone understands what is expected.  Given the ever evolving nature of social media, it is also important for employers to periodically review and update the policy as needed.

When drafting a policy, these are some factors to consider including:

  • Setting a clear definition of “social media” so that it is clear to employees what is being referred to; e.g. is it intended to include only social networking sites, or also blogging?
  • Separating personal and professional use;
  • Explaining who can speak for the company on social media;
  • Outlining the behaviour that is not acceptable;
  • Describing the type of behaviour that is acceptable; including, when using it at work is acceptable;
  •  A reminder of the risks and permanence of posting on social media; and
  • The consequences of breaching the company’s policy.

With a policy in place, enforcement becomes the next issue.  What is an employer to do once it becomes aware that its employee has breached its social media policy?  The potential discipline for the employee will depend on the nature of the employee’s conduct.  At the same time, if the employer has a clear, written social media policy that has been violated by the employee, dismissal may be justified.   Factors to consider are:

  • Damage to the company; including, reputational damage;
  • Damage to the operation of the workplace;
  • The frequency, timing and duration of inappropriate posts;
  • Response of the employee; e.g. uncooperativeness or defiance when confronted, or honesty and remorse;
  • Disclosure of confidential information; and
  • Whether previous warnings have been given.

If your company is considering a workplace social media policy, you should seek legal advice.  We can assist in identifying your company’s particular concerns and needs.

Jennifer Loeb
Employment Lawyer
Lindsay Kenney LLP – Langley Office