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Employment Law Bulletin: Social Networking
Monday, 24 September 2007 16:22
The ever-growing popularity of social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook is putting increasing pressure on employers to monitor (and deal with) any misuse of the internet in the workplace.

One of the major City law firms recently imposed a ban on its employees from using Facebook (a website that allows people to upload a profile with personal details, photos, videos and notes and to link to their friends’ profiles) whilst at work. The ban was imposed as the firm believed that employees’ use of Facebook to download videos and post messages could affect the performance of the firm’s IT systems. After numerous complaints from employees, the firm relented and lifted the ban. A recent survey by Sophos recently revealed however, that 43% of employers have now banned access to Facebook at work. (Source: New Media Age).  

Whilst most of you allow your employees to use the internet at work for personal use outside of office hours, you should be aware that employees’ use of social networking sites could expose your company to potential dangers. We recently came across a situation where an employee had posted a sexually explicit message on a social networking website which happened to be seen by other employees. The employer was alerted to the message and was shocked to see its content and the fact that the employee had referred to the employer by name on the website. The employer also noted that the message had been posted by the employee during normal office hours

The above is a clear example of how an employee’s use of a social networking site can:-

a.      breach the company’s internet policy (by making personal use of the company's IT systems in company time and by using the internet in such a way that it could offend others);

b.      breach the company’s harassment policy (by offending other employees or anyone else reading the message); and

c.      potentially bring their employer into disrepute

Each of the above are potential grounds for dismissal. However, even where the employer is not identified on the website and/or an offensive message is posted from the employee’s own computer in non-company time, if readers of the message can identify the person as being employed by you, the employee’s actions could still potentially bring your company into disrepute which can give you grounds to discipline, and possibly dismiss the employee. Further, if an employee or third party is offended by a message and/or is the subject of an offensive message posted by one of your employees, he/she could potentially bring a claim against your company in respect of the employee’s actions depending on whether the employee’s actions are carried out in the course of his/her employment with you

TIP: Whilst we do not suggest that you impose a blanket ban on the use of social networking websites in the workplace, you should ensure that your internet policy is updated if necessary and you should consider sending a general message to all employees reminding them of the policy and making specific reference to social networking sites. The message should also confirm that employees’ use of the internet may be monitored and that any misuse will be dealt with under the company’s disciplinary procedure

TIP: If you do not currently have an internet policy and/or this does not allow you to monitor internet usage, we advise you to redress this as a matter of urgency.

If you have any queries about social networking please contact David Greenhalgh at H2O Law LLP on 020 7405 4700.

Whilst H2O Law LLP makes every attempt to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the information contained in this article the information should not be relied upon as a substitute for formal legal advice.  H2O Law LLP, its employees and agents will not be responsible for any loss, howsoever arising, from the use of or reliance upon this information. © H2O Law LLP 2007



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