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Acas publishes guide to social media in the workplace

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Acas, the employment Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, has published 5 factsheets covering the topic of 'social networking' and 'social media' in the workplace. The employment body said the guide, which it claims is the first in the UK, is aimed at helping businesses, staff and trade unions agree on how to handle employment issues related to the internet, blogs and social media websites such as Twitter and Facebook.

Acas says: “Smart phones, internet, tweeting, blogging - we have accepted all of these innovations, and many more, as part of our working lives, helping us to work more flexibly, stay in touch for longer and respond to each other more quickly.

But is it all good news? Some estimates report that misuse of the internet and social media by workers costs Britain's economy billions of pounds every year and add that many employers are already grappling with issues like time theft, defamation, cyber bullying, freedom of speech and the invasion of privacy.”

Almost six out of 10 employees now use social media at work whether on computers or mobile phones, according to Acas figures. This can lead to problems with staff members wasting work time on personal webpages, posting derogatory comments about managers and colleagues, or buying and selling online.

Misuse of the internet and social media by employees is estimated to cost the UK economy up to £14bn a year, according to the guidance.

However the guide warns against "knee-jerk reactions" and urges employers to consider the "moral intensity" of any offensive content published before proceeding with disciplinary action.

Acas recommends that employers consult staff and trade unions before publishing their own policies, and should also make the consequences of breaching any policy clear in employment contracts.

It stresses that the employer, staff and unions agree to protect employees' freedom of speech and so that staff and managers feel protected against online bullying and damage to the company's reputation.

It also urges employers to keep the policy up to date to reflect the speed of change in the technology and its uses.

John Taylor, Acas chief executive, stressed that employees' conduct online should be subject to the same standards as their conduct in the workplace.

"Employees should assume that everything they say on the internet could be made public, and should think whether they want their colleagues or boss to read it. They might not mean it, but what they post could end up being seen by billions of people worldwide," he said.

However, he stressed that any monitoring of online activity should be proportionate. "A manager wouldn't follow an employee down the pub to check on what he or she said to friends about their day at work. Just because they can do something like this online doesn't mean they should," he said.

The guide also warns employers about the risks of searching for information about potential employees online and using any personal information found during the recruitment process.

Managers risk being sued for discrimination "if they refuse to interview someone as a result of a judgement they made based on a social networking profile", it says.

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Pearson Hinchliffe Commercial Law's Employment team can advise employers and employees on matters concerning staff policies and managing the use by staff of social media websites during work.

Please call Pearson Hinchliffe Commercial Law’s Employment Law team for more information using the details provided below.

Please note that the information and opinions contained in this article are not intended to be comprehensive, nor to provide legal advice. No responsibility for its accuracy or correctness is assumed by Pearson Solicitors and Financial Advisers Ltd or any of its members or employees. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking, or refraining from taking, any action as a result of this article.

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