Judging by recent articles in the press, employers are now not only monitoring staff’s usage of social networking sites such as Twitter but some have decided it is a good idea to become a ‘friend’ of their staff on such sites. Understandably a number of people find this idea uncomfortable and are reluctant to ‘befriend’ their manager on Twitter and allow them to ‘follow’ them around. The cross-over between work and play is becoming just too close for some, so it is important employers ensure company policies covers social networking usage.
Ensuring your Company Policies can deal with Twitter
The monitoring of staff usage of the internet has been around as an issue for a few years now. The laws are not consistent throughout Australia but best practice, where a business operates in various States including NSW, would suggest the NSW law should be adopted. This involves having an employer policy in place which clearly sets out what internet monitoring will occur and ensuring staff are aware of and understand the policy.
However when these policies were first developed, most were more concerned with staff viewing inappropriate sites and sending out company confidential information without authority. Employers now need to ensure their policies are up to date and broad enough to be able to deal with the use by staff of social networking sites and the monitoring of staff usage of such sites both during and outside work hours. Guidelines should be set out for staff dealing with issues such as what is considered to be acceptable use of such sites and restrictions on what staff can refer to on such sites concerning their workplace.
What if an employer wants to ‘befriend’ a staff member on Facebook or Twitter?
Aside from the employer perhaps running the risk of being seen as a bit too intrusive, there is nothing stopping an employer taking this step but equally if an employee decides to permit this, an employer needs to take great care of the use made of any employee information they access on such sites.
An employer could inadvertently find themselves in breach of the surveillance laws mentioned above and perhaps face an unfair dismissal accusation if for example the employer makes use of information they glean from say, an employee’s Twitter entry to terminate an employee’s employment. While conduct out of office hours has for some time been able to be relied upon to take disciplinary action against an employee; relying on an employee’s behavior which an employer has been able to view through asking to be a ‘friend’ is extending this concept even further.
Disciplinary action arising out of a ‘befriending’ on Facebook or Twitter
While employers need to ensure their policies are broad enough to deal with monitoring activities engaged in by staff on social networking sites such as Twitter, the fact an employer finds an entry in bad taste is not grounds for disciplinary action. The behavior must have some connection with the employment relationship and be damaging to the employer or otherwise in breach of some company policy justifying disciplinary action.
The employer may also want to have a think about how restrictive and/or arguably intrusive they want to be when it comes to restricting and monitoring staff using social networking sites. A too restrictive a policy could lead to a perception that staff are not to be trusted, which while a non-legal issue, is something employers also need to consider.
Kerry-Ann Aitken is a Principal for Outsourcedlaw www.outsourcedlaw.com.au
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