Over the past decade, the phenomenon of social networking has grown dramatically. Not only can individuals interact with others online via websites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, they can easily post their personal thoughts and views for all to see on blogs and video-sharing websites, such as YouTube. It is estimated that at least 55% of people regularly access this type of social media during working hours that’s six out of every 10 employees.

Historically, access was usually gained through the employer’s PC; with just a few clicks, that is quite easy to stop. However, as technology has moved on, this is no longer necessary; iPads, BlackBerrys and other personal mobile devices offer staff immediate access without having to go through your IT networks. This means you will rarely have "physical" control over what your employees get up to online.

Open to abuse

The problems this can cause include staff posting derogatory comments about managers and colleagues in the public domain, updating personal web pages with real-time information, surfing the internet during your time and using auction websites. Managing these issues and all the others this digital revolution has presented, can be mind-boggling.

If you don’t have a clear policy and 90% of employers don’t you will have trouble disciplining anyone for "cyber mischief".

New ACAS guidance

To help employers deal with social media problems effectively and put steps in place to prevent them from arising, ACAS has issued some new guidance. It offers easy-to-read practical advice on:

l Employees’ use of social media inside and outside work

l Managing performance

l Taking disciplinary action

l Defamation, data protection and privacy

l And how to develop a social media policy.

Each section lists the main issues, along with the dangers and benefits they present. It then goes on to offer clear strategies on the correct way forward in other words, advice on how you can protect your business and stay legally compliant.

The guidance also recommends you consult with staff about your proposed rules on social media, spell them out in a policy, which is regularly reviewed, and make the consequences of any breaches clear for example, that it will result in disciplinary action up to and including dismissal.

You can see the ACAS guidance by using this link: www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=3375

Our members can contact us for a copy of our sample Email & Internet Policy on 01920 468061.