Given the ever-increasing popularity and reach of social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, there are a number of factors business leaders need to consider to remain relevant and also build and maintain a good reputation in the market.
This is according to Kay Vittee, CEO of Kelly & Quest Staffing Solutions, who said that beyond establishing a presence on social media and engaging with existing and potential clients and other stakeholders, organisations need to be prepared for the risks associated with the social media posts of those publicly affiliated with their business – staff.
“While an employer isn’t able to dictate what kind of profiles employees can set up or what they do in their personal time, the borders of what constitutes freedom of speech, personal privacy and proper professional etiquette are less distinct than they may have been in the past.”
To manage an organisation’s reputation and ensure that it is not associated with any controversial, discriminatory or damaging (legally, financially or otherwise) views, it is vital to keep an eye on what employees are putting out there on social media, Vittee said.
“From sharing confidential information, infringing on customer privacy and cyber bullying to posting comments which can be perceived as discriminatory or inappropriate, these actions come hand-in-hand with some very real consequences – for both employee and employer, the staffing expert said.
With the need for clear guidelines of what constitutes hate speech, defamation or racist content, the posts of staff on a public forum – even if in their personal capacity and out of working hours – can have a negative impact on an employer.
As such, social media misconduct cases are becoming more common with offensive remarks that bring employing organisations into disrepute, for example, being reported and employers taking the necessary action in terms of disciplinary hearings and / or dismissal, Vittee said.
A recent example of such a scenario is that of an individual in the medical field who was dismissed from her position after having allegedly made comments on social media relating to a medical procedure undertaken on president Jacob Zuma’s wife in the hospital in which she worked.
Steps for employer to deal with negative employee social media activity
Ultimately, when an employee behaves in a way which makes the employer believe that a third-party may change his or her perspective on the organisation, they are well within their rights to pursue legal action and dismissal, Vittee said.
“While this is an effective reactive measure of dealing with social media misconduct, it is important for business leaders to consider some preventative procedures which focus on educating staff on what is expected of them and how offences will be addressed.
“With this knowledge and understanding, employees can be better prepared, exercise good judgment and be equipped to deal with the consequences of their actions.”
Vittee said that while it may seem obvious, within your social media policy, it is crucial to outline that employees should never share confidential and proprietary information online. Forgoing to include this simple point can result in serious financial and reputational harm.
“Having a social media policy in place will, at the very least, act as a reminder for staff to be more aware of their online activities and think before they post. After all, in the digital age, nothing posted online is very truly private,” Vittee said.