Legal Expenses Cover Vital in the Social Media Age

02/04/19 General

Social media use could be an addiction, according to a study by a university in Michigan, yet 33% of UK companies have no social media policy in place. Without that fundamental piece of documentation, employers could be leaving themselves open to issues, if they discipline ‘addicted’ employees. And, without legal expenses cover, things could get expensive.

It is said that we, on average, take to social media for two hours per day, as we both network and message. Just because we are at work does not mean we are capable of a digital detox, although some employers have gone down the route of trying to enforce one, or at least a partial one. Car parts manufacturer, Continental, has banned its employees from using Whatsapp and Snapchat, stating it has data security concerns about the use of apps that could potentially access its data systems.

Bans are an option, especially since, in 2018, the European Court of Human Rights issued a ruling that stated that a ban on the use of social media at work was not an unlawful course of action for an employer to take. The employer in question had also taken the step of stating that it would be monitoring the social media pages of its employees, something that again the Court deemed acceptable.

Taking disciplinary action against employees who waste company time by taking to social media, potentially also using company equipment to do so, has some precedent, therefore.  However, it is not that clear-cut, as in other cases, in which employees have been dismissed for posting negative comments about their employer’s customers on social media, judgement has sometimes been in favour of the employer, but at other times favoured the employee. Cases have been judged on the likely repercussions resulting from the comments.

This situation is a bit of a maze, which is why spelling out your business’s social media policy in a handbook or contract is key. What will you tolerate and what will you not? What are the rules you expect employees to follow? If everyone knows where they stand, there is less likelihood of a tribunal taking place, should an employee breach the rules.

But is banning social media use at work really wise, when 61% of Facebook users declare that they have a compulsion to check their feed at least once daily? Could morale be lowered if you cut them off from it? But, taking an opposing view, the University of Michigan researchers found that the poorest decision makers are those most dependent on social media. In fact, their performance was so poor that they demonstrated the tendencies usually associated with cocaine and opioids addicts.

Then there is the hot potato of Linkedin. Who actually owns the connection list that employees build up whilst working for you? Employees may think it is theirs to use, but courts have ruled the other way, if they have deemed that the list grew during working hours, using an employer’s resources, and under its supervision. Again, putting your LinkedIn policy in your handbook is a way to steer clear of future legal conflict.

There is a lot of potential for litigation around the theme of social media, which is why having legal expenses cover in place is a wise move, not just for this, but for anything that could result in a tribunal. Defending a claim by an employee is expensive and many companies, who have no insurance cover, cave in and pay compensation as the lower-cost alternative. If you would not wish to have your hand forced, perhaps you need to get in touch and talk to us about legal expenses cover?