History has proven, where there has been disparaging comments or inappropriate photos posted about colleagues or employers on social media, consequences in one way or another, have flowed into the workplace. But now unfriending a colleague on Facebook might land employers in a legal dilemma! Could not ‘like’-ing a status update be the next issue our businesses face? A Social Media policy will help to clearly set the playing field when it comes to sharing and connecting with co-workers and the ‘like’ (pun intended!) in your workplace.

The events played out in the Fair Work Commission have received a lot of attention in recent weeks where a Tasmanian Real Estate Agent Ms. Rachael Roberts, alleged bullying by her co-worker Mrs. Lisa Bird who had unfriended her from Facebook and was just one of a number of claims made by Ms. Roberts. These alleged behaviours also included Ms. Roberts being singled out, having inappropriate comments made towards her and subjected to aggressive behaviour by Mrs. Bird.

The Fair Work Commission upheld 9 of the 18 claims made by Ms. Roberts whereby Fair Work Commission Deputy President Nicole Wells, deemed the behaviour directed towards Ms. Roberts constituted bullying, and in her decision speech made the following comments that have employers scrambling to update their social media polices:

“This action by Mrs Bird evidences a lack of emotional maturity and is indicative of unreasonable behaviour, the likes of which I have already made findings on.

“The ‘schoolgirl’ comment, even accepting of Mrs Bird’s version of events, which I am not, is evidence of an inappropriate dealing with Ms Roberts which was provocative and disobliging.

“I am of the view that Mrs Bird took the first opportunity to draw a line under the relationship with Ms Roberts on 29 January 2015, when she removed her as a friend on Facebook as she did not like Ms Roberts and would prefer not to have to deal with her.”

So my question to you is, how are you preventing this situation from potentially occurring in your workplace?

Sure, you say you have a robust Bullying and Harassment policy, and that’s excellent, as having such a policy will help you identify and deal with claims of bullying or harassment, but have you given thought to the impacts of Social Media in your workplace?

Who knows what squabbles or inappropriate behaviour is potentially occurring online that could just as much land you in a legal mess, as it could a working environment about implode. Remember that your employees are only friends on Facebook because they work together. So some responsibility does rest with the employer and prevention is better than cure right?..

YES! Sometimes interactions between colleagues in a social media environment are a catalyst for a myriad of workplace issues not only related to bullying but other serious issues like company image and brand problems, confidentiality and or privacy breaches, equal opportunity and or harassment complaints to name a few.

Sometimes people just don’t know where to draw the line between being professional and personal online. This is the grey area plaguing employers from a ‘who controls who and what’ perspective and this recent case of ‘unfriending’ reminds us of the importance of the existence of a Social Media policy in every workplace.

A good social media policy helps employers manage and employees to understand a few basics like:

  • allowing reasonable access to social media during work time,
  • providing guidelines on how to communicate with co-workers and about the company online,
  • keeping the company’s values in mind when making work related connections or comments online,
  • promoting other appropriate forms of making work-related connections such as LinkedIn, Facebook Groups
  • preventing the disclosure of confidential information and or private information of the company, colleagues or clients,
  • defining appropriate use of work related images, and
  • preventing disparaging or inappropriate comments about the company, colleagues or clients.

Employers could encourage work related connections through other forms of social media such as LinkedIn or managed Facebook Groups rather than ‘friending’ each other on Facebook or other social media sites. Importantly, employers should be educating their staff on the potential pitfalls (in light of the recent Fair Work Commission’s ruling of course!) in how these matters can affect them professionally and how to avoid them.

If you want assistance with updating your Social Media Policy or if you don’t have a Social Media Policy in your business get in touch today and HR Gurus can help.

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