You’re the boss: How much control do you have over employees’ social media activity?

This week there has been significant media coverage of a guide published by the Australian Public Service (APS) Commission about employees making public comment on social media.

Emily Shoemark, Senior Associate with Snedden Hall & Gallop, explains why private employers should consider how a social media policy affects business and employees.

APS employees making public comment on social media

Public servants are bound by the terms of employment to behave at all times in a way that upholds the APS Values and Employment principles, the integrity and good reputation of the APS and to comply with the Code of Conduct. The Guide is intended to be read in conjunction with the social media policies of individual public service agencies, and sets out how certain conduct online may be a breach of the APS Code of Conduct and result in disciplinary action.

The Guide provides examples of how particular conduct on social media can be interpreted as criticising the work of an agency, Minister or APS policy. These examples may breach employment obligations:

  1. Online posts or comments, even if public servants post online anonymously or using a pseudonym, as the digital footprints that now exist online can result in posts easily being traced back to the author; 
  2. Comments made in a private email to a friend; 
  3. ‘Liking’ or sharing material, on the basis that this is likely to be taken as an endorsement of that material; and
  4. Not removing, or indicating disapproval of, comments made by others on a social media page an APS employee controls.

Can you control your employees' social media activity?

From a private employer’s perspective, a question raised is what control does an employer have over an employee’s use of social media in their own time using their own device? The answer is that it all comes down to the employment agreement in place and the policies that the employer has implemented in the work place.

If the employer has no social media policy in place, and no terms of employment binding the employee to comply with that policy, then an employer may have no control. For example, lets say an employee in their own time comments on social media on a topic which is contrary to your business and potentially damaging to its reputation. Unless the right policy is in place then you may not be able to take any disciplinary action against that employee.

Do you have a social media policy that will stand up?

A properly implemented social media policy will:

  1. Be tailored to the business;
  2. Provide restrictions of social media use that are appropriate and reasonable for the business; and 
  3. Those expectations will have been clearly communicated to all employees.

If, as an employer, you have an ‘off the shelf’ social media policy that is not tailored to your business, the risk is that the restrictions could be held to be unreasonable and unenforceable.

How can Snedden Hall & Gallop assist?

If you employ people and do not have a social media policy in place, or it has not been tailored to your business, the experienced Business Team at Snedden Hall & Gallop can advise you on the best solution for your needs. Please call us today for assistance with any aspect of your business, including policy creation, on (02) 6285 8000 or by email.

Emily Shoemark’s biography

You can find out more about Emily in her biography