Employment relations expert Acas has drawn it up to help businesses, staff and trade unions agree how to handle the use of the internet, blogs and social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter inside and outside of work.
Logging on to social media has rocketed in the last ten years, with almost six out of ten staff (55%) now using it at work, either on computers or mobile phones. But employers say many staff are also abusing it by looking at their personal web pages instead of working, posting derogatory comments about managers and colleagues, or buying and selling online.
Most employers are unclear how to manage this aspect of the digital revolution. A few, such as BT and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, have issued their own policies, but research has found that fewer than one in ten employers have a social media policy. Acas’s guide is believed to be the first offering advice to all employers.
Most employees, too, are confused over when, where and how they can use social media in and away from work.
Acas’s main recommendation is that an employer should consult with staff and trade unions to spell out the dos and don’ts of using the internet and social media, and should also make clear the consequences of breaching its policy, which should become part of contracts of employment.
It stresses that in working out a policy, employer, staff and unions should agree so employees do not feel gagged, staff and managers feel protected against online bullying, and the firm feels confident its reputation will be guarded.
Acas Chief Executive John Taylor said: “Online conduct should not differ from offline conduct. Employees should assume that everything they say on the internet could be made public, and should think whether they want their colleagues or boss to read it. They might not mean it, but what they post could end up being seen by billions of people worldwide.”
Acas also says it is vital employers, employees and unions keep up to date to review a company’s internet and social media policy because the technology and its use are evolving fast. And the issues have yet to be really tested in law.
Bosses are also advised to carefully assess the potential harm from an employee stepping out of line on social media before deciding how they will react. Mr Taylor said: “If an employer is too tough, it needs to consider the potential impact of any negative publicity.”
And if bosses check on employees’ use of the internet and social media, they must make it clear what they scrutinize and why. Mr Taylor said: “Heavy-handed monitoring can cause bad feeling and be time consuming.
A manager wouldn’t follow an employee down the pub to check on what he or she said to friends about their day at work. Just because they can do something like this online, doesn’t mean they should.”
“Importantly, many companies want their employees to be up to date and comfortable with internet working, as social media sites are increasingly a key part of business and marketing. Firms need to bear this in mind.”
Go to http://www.acas.org.uk/socialnetworking for more details on Acas’s guidance including practical tips for employers.