The growth of social media platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, has had many benefits. Social media has made it easier to stay connected with family and friends, and businesses have experienced increased business exposure, engagement with customers and cost-effective marketing.

However, social media can be used inappropriately, such as employees:

  • Spending too much time on social media sites during work hours;
  • Bullying, victimising, harassing or engaging in inappropriate conduct or behaviour towards a colleague on social media sites;
  • Viewing, posting or sending online content that is discriminatory, pornographic or offensive;
  • Posting information or comments on social media sites which can damage the employer’s interests, brand or reputation.
  • 1. Understand the different social media sites
  • 2. Determine the best approach for monitoring and using social media in the workplace
  • 3. Set reasonable expectations on social media use
  • 4. Write a policy

Social media use and its impact on the workplace hasn’t been completely negative. There are businesses that recognise the power of social media and have successfully figured out how to partner with employees to use social media as a tool to improve branding, increase exposure and profits.

Employers need to keep up with changing technology trends and be aware of the various social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, LinkedIn and Instagram.

A good understanding of how these sites function can help employers form a strategy with employees on how they can be used to promote the business. For example, some companies use LinkedIn or Facebook to advertise recruitment opportunities, and employees are encouraged to ‘share’ these vacancies to their own profiles to attract potential candidates to apply for the role.

Businesses need to determine how they will monitor social media at the workplace to minimise any negative impact on productivity, as well as potential breaches of company policies such as bullying and harassment policies and general work health and safety requirements.

This includes making decisions around how much time employees can spend using social media while at work. For example, are employees allowed to access Facebook during work time or only during breaks? Are there certain roles in the business that legitimately require employees to use social media at work? Employees in marketing positions may be responsible for managing a company’s social media profiles as part of their duties, which means that employees in these roles may be permitted to use social media during work hours.

However, there may be other roles where it is not a requirement, or it is inappropriate or unsafe to use social media during work, such as when the employee is with a customer or client or working in a high-risk environment such as a factory. In such cases, social media may only be used during meal and other breaks.

Once the business determines the approach to allowing (or not allowing) social media use at work, it is important to communicate the business’ expectations to employees.

This means setting out clearly what will and what will not be tolerated at work in terms of social media use.

One way of setting clear expectations and guidelines is through a social media policy. An effective social media policy should:

  • Clarify the employer’s expectations regarding the personal use of social media at work;
  • Clearly outline when social media may be accessed for personal use, for example, during breaks only;
  • Explain how the social media policy applies during and outside working hours;
  • If social media is used for work purposes, clarify who is authorised to post on the company’s social media sites and guidelines on appropriate posts;
  • Outline how the business intends to monitor or audit compliance with the policy;
  • Be easily available and clearly understood by all employees;
  • Outline the possible consequences of a breach of the policy, such as disciplinary action; and
  • Be linked to other relevant company policies e.g. equal employment and anti-bullying and harassment, disciplinary procedures or a code of conduct.
  • 5. Train employees
  • 6. Partner with employees

There may be additional compliance requirements under privacy and surveillance legislation for an employer wanting to monitor employee social media use on company-provided devices. For further advice on the obligations under these laws or for assistance with drafting a policy, please contact the Ai Group Workplace Advice Line.

Employees should receive information or training on the social media policy throughout their employment. Regular training helps to reinforce expectations and understanding of the potential consequences if the policy is breached. It also provides opportunities for employees to ask questions if they are unsure about aspects of the policy.

Training and communications with employees about the social media policy should provide employees with information on how they can use social media in a way that complies with the policy.

Find ways to partner with employees to help market products and services. For example, employees could be asked to share information about a new rewards program, new services or a limited time promotion with their Facebook friends or on LinkedIn.

Creating incentive programs are a great way to reward employees who help raise awareness of new products and services that result in sales or new clients.

Managing conduct on social media outside of the workplace

Employees are entitled to use social media in their personal life without interference from their employer. However, employers may be able to monitor, restrict or take disciplinary action against an employee if there is enough connection between the conduct on social media and the employment relationship.

Generally, a connection will be found between the workplace and the employee’s out-of-hours conduct where the conduct is:

  • Likely to cause serious damage to the employment relationship or to the business;
  • Breaching the employee’s obligation to comply with the employer’s reasonable and lawful directions (such complying with a social media policy); or
  • Likely to seriously damage the employee’s working relationship with other employees.

An employee may face disciplinary action if they have made inappropriate or offensive comments about an employer or colleagues on social media sites.

If an employee has any doubts about whether their social media post is appropriate, they could ask themselves, “Am I comfortable with my manager viewing this post?”.

Employers should obtain advice before commencing disciplinary action against an employee who is suspected to have breached a social media policy.

Further advice or assistance

For further advice or assistance on this topic, or any workplace relations matter, Employment Plus clients who have placed two or more candidates have free access to the Ai Group Workplace Advice Line.

Call 1300 862 217, 8.30am– 5.15pm AEST Monday-Friday