Why all businesses need to have a social media policy in place

On behalf of Attwaters Jameson Hill posted on Wednesday, December 28th, 2016

A recent case heard before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has highlighted the sometimes grey area surrounding an employee's right to privacy when accessing social media during company time.

In this case, involving a company in Romania, an employee used a workplace messaging account to send private e-mails. This was in clear breach of company rules and he was dismissed. The employee’s case was that his right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence had been breached by his employer. The court found that the employer had acted reasonably as the business had clear rules in place surrounding what employees could and couldn’t do on social media accounts during working hours.

Although the case didn’t see the introduction of new rules, it provoked considerable media interest. As Britain has ratified the European Convention on Human Rights, UK judges must take into account the ECHR’s rulings on identical cases, but importantly is not bound by them.

This ruling certainly doesn’t give employers the right to read private messages in all cases. What it does underline is the need for employers to have clear policies in place that cover the use of company equipment and social media access.


Getting the right policy in place

Employers need to include in any social media policy what is and what is not acceptable behaviour concerning the use of the internet, e-mail, smart phones and social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. This should be included in the terms and conditions of employment and in staff handbooks.

When it comes to recruiting staff, employers increasingly look at profiles on social networking sites. According to a survey of 300 company recruiters, 91% of British employers check out applicants on social media. While this is clearly becoming common practice, care needs to be exercised in this area as this can be viewed as discriminatory and unfair to candidates.


Problem areas

As ever, employers need to keep abreast of developments in this rapidly-changing area of the law. The lines between work and home life are in many instances becoming increasingly blurred. In some organisations it has become common for employees to deal with company e-mails after hours and at weekends, so clearly a certain amount of flexibility is advisable.

If your organisation doesn’t currently have a policy covering social media, or you haven’t revisited your existing rules and guidelines in a while, why not contact us to set up a review?



Does your organisation have a social media policy? As boundaries between work and leisure blur, it pays to have rules in place. See our blog.

Do you check applicant’s social media profiles? Do you have rules on internet access and phone use? To find out more, see our blog.

Worried about employees using the internet and phones in working time? We can help you put a social media policy in place. See our blog.

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