New research from the Institute for Employment Studies has highlighted the difficulties some employers experience when setting standards of behaviour for the increasing use of social networking tools (including Smart phones, internet, tweeting and blogging) in the workplace.  This research prompted the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) to produce practical guidelines for employers on how to respond to challenges such as ‘Time theft’, defamation, Health and Safety issues, Cyber bullying, Data Protection and Privacy issues, Employer liability, social exclusion and discrimination.

ACAS advises employers to draw up a policy on internet and social networking activity, firstly by consulting with employee/union representatives.  Employers should then draft and implement an appropriate policy, taking into account the consultation discussions and both the employee’s business and private use of social media.  The policy should aim to help employees draw a line between their private and professional lives.  Employers should then ensure they communicate their policy to employees and make the policy easily accessible to all staff.

The policy should provide clear guidelines of the employer’s expectations of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour and provide examples of personal views employees are permitted to express.  It should clearly set out what behaviour will be monitored and the disciplinary process, including the consequences of violation.  ACAS advises employers to take a common sense stance to regulating behaviour, to treat ‘electronic behaviour’ in the same way as ‘non-electronic behaviour’ and to ensure the response is proportionate to the perceived offence.

Further, by educating employees on relevant issues and setting out clear guidelines and examples, the policy should have the desired effect of limiting the many business risks associated with social networking, whilst also exploiting the opportunities and benefits available, such as flexible working, improved internal and external communication and using social media as a tool for advertising and marketing.

The ACAS guidance on social media is available here.