At the time when Facebook launched, social media was virtually unheard of, yet as we know today it, along with many other platforms, is an integral part of society and the daily routine for millions of people. Yet social media is still a bit like the Wild West in legal terms and many businesses and individuals are finding out the hard way that there is no particular rule book for online behaviour. What do you need to know in order to determine whether social media etiquette breaches any laws?
What's at Risk
A number of cases have arisen recently where an individual has been terminated due to something he or she posted through a social media platform. Some of these individuals have disputed whether the termination was legal or fair, questioning the right to free speech.
Of course, a social media account may well belong to the individual, but in certain cases the individual can represent the employer even though they are not 'on the clock', so to speak. But to be safe, the employer should have a clearly worded clause or two within their contract of employment to lay out exactly what is and isn't acceptable, whether it's related to work or not.
As it is in the best interests of both employee and employer to understand where the line is and not to cross it, employers should conduct regular trainings so that all employees are fully aware of best practices. This is not an employer trying to dictate what appears on the social media timeline, but it must clearly indicate the limits regarding work-related mentions or posts that are controversial in general terms.
Courts will generally rule in favour of an employer that's created a very clear policy relating to social media use, both within and outside of the workplace. It will be necessary to prove, however, that the post in question not just violated policy, but also potentially harmed the employer's business or reputation.
The Importance of Consistency
Finally, it is also important for any employer to be consistent in dealing with potential infringements. It's not a good idea for one clear violation to be overlooked, whereas another results in a sanction. This inconsistency can play out badly in a court of law for the employer.
As an employer, if you're unsure how to create a workable social media policy get in touch with lawyers.