Employees, the internet and social media - are you managing your risks?

Team Management

Employees, the internet and social media - are you managing your risks?

A Facebook Story

You would think that at this day and age, everyone would know the protocols of posting comments on their private Facebook pages if they are in any way connected to their professional life.  Well, obviously not. An employee of a credit management company posted a remark on his private Facebook page, which cannot be interpreted as anything but sexual harassment of another employee of the organisation. The Company, after investigation of the matter decided to terminate his services. After all, this was not the first time he posted comments on his private Facebook page that seriously breached the Company's IT and Social Media policy and processes. He was given training on this issue and received formal warnings. Upon termination, the employee lodged an Unfair Dismissal Claim at the Fair Work Commission, claiming that he was being made a 'sacrificial lamb'. The case went into arbitration and the Commission upheld the Company's termination decision.

A LinkedIn Story

Some employers are generous enough to allow their employees to run their out-of-hour small businesses if there is no direct conflict of interests. The employees, in return need to honour this boundary and not take advantage of the generosity. An Interior Design Firm in Canberra allowed an employee to run his small business in his own time, so long it did not prevent him from concentrating on his day job as required. However, the employee decided to expand his business and sent out a group email to all his LinkedIn contacts of his decision to turn his out-of-hour business to a full time occupation. His contacts included clients of his employer. The employer, after investigation decided that this was a breach of their Code of Conduct and terminated the employee's services. This employee went to the Fair Work Commission to get a remedy for Unfair Dismissal. The case went to  arbitration when the Commission decided that the termination was fair.

What helped the Companies win these cases?

  1. A Social Media Policy detailing the acceptable use of the internet and social media
  2. A Code of Conduct Policy that clearly described conflict of interests
  3. Wide and repeated communication of the policies among all employees
  4. Training provided to all employees so that they understand the meaning of acceptable use of  the internet provided by the Company and the social media as well as the implications of  breaching the policies
  5. Taking all appropriate steps to remain procedurally correct in their decision to terminate

What risks are you taking if you don't have appropriate written policies?

As the above case studies show, if in case any of your employees, harasses or bullies another employee, contractor, consultant, supplier or any other person associated with the business using the social media, you as the employer may get implicated in a legal proceeding. 

Or, they may well be hurting your business interest by using the tremendous power of social media. Not only taking your clients, an employee may inadvertently publish confidential or business sensitive information on the public domain through the social media. Without an appropriate Policy that has been well communicated to all your staff, you cannot reasonably take any disciplinary actions against them.

What if your employees are downloading objectionable or harmful materials from the internet using your business server? What if those materials are stored and being used as email attachments? Can you reasonably terminate an employee's service if they haven't specifically been told not to? You may argue that this is common sense. Are you confident that the Fair Work Commission will see it in the same light?

If an employee puts an opinion on their private social media page against an individual or an organisation associated with your business and uses their official title without a disclaimer - they put your business at risk.

The risks for you is not just financial, but much, much more - it includes your business confidentiality, staff morale, brand identity and numerous other legal risks such as violation of privacy. or copyright laws.

Take pro-active steps to minimise these risks. If you don't have a written Code of Conduct or Social Media Policy at your workplace, consider introducing them and train all your employees in their applications including implications of breaching these policies. Only then you can take reasonable steps if anything goes wrong.

Mahua Das

Director at Next Gen Teams

I am an HR professional recently started my own consultancy. My preferred area of work is organisational change management. I live in Sydney, love to travel and also am an avid foodie.

Comments (2)
Mark Veitch


This is an excellent summary Mahua. The new Workplace Regulations around bullying that came into place in January this year mean that all employers be it SMB, Corporate or Government need to be ensuring they are applying best social media practices for the benefit and protection of the company and its employees. My view is it is time for business to take social media seriously. A report released this month by Gartner on social media in Government talks of social media as a “mission critical channel to better engage, connect and allocate resources to overcome significant challenges”. This is the first time I have seen social media referred to as a potential mission critical application by such an authority and it highlights the need for organisations to embrace social media as a legitimate business tool. While technology is available to automate and protect organisations and staff against many of these risks, it all starts with properly developed policies and procedures that are communicated regularly to employees. Managed correctly, social media can provide real business outcomes for organisations large and small.

Mahua Das

Mahua Das, Director at Next Gen Teams

Thanks Mark. In my experience, small businesses are still not taking the risks of social media seriously - most don't have any policies to prevent mishaps. Hope this will start generating interests and alertness.