Employees sometimes use social media to air their grievances, for example, an employee complaining about how they are being treated by their line manager at work. You should always make clear to your employees that the appropriate medium for raising a grievance is via the company grievance procedure, and not social media sites.
You may have difficulty in knowing how to apply company disciplinary rules to social media activity. For example, what online behaviour constitutes 'gross misconduct'? Many employers have clear rules on defamation and breaches of confidentiality, but are often less sure about whether they should be making judgments about an employee's behaviour online.
Social media can also be an excuse for avoiding face-to-face conversations. Many of the issues that lead to disciplinary and grievance problems at work can often be dealt with by having an informal discussion with an employee. However this can prove difficult if line managers have become over-reliant on communicating electronically.
What steps should employers take?
- Set clear guidelines – make it clear when employees are seen to be representing the company and what personal views they can express - for example, some employees are forbidden from expressing any political views. Also be clear about how you expect employees to help protect the company or brand. See develop a social media policy.
- Include social networking in your discipline and grievance policy – provide clear examples of what will be regarded as gross misconduct - for example, posting derogatory or offensive comments online about the company or a work colleague which amounts to harassment. See handling grievances and grievance and disciplinary procedures and templates.
- Update bullying policies to include guidance on the use of social media - an example of bullying through social media could be an employee being deliberately ostracised at work because they did not accept an invitation to become someone's friend on a social networking site. Read more on bullying and harassment.
- Remember direct forms of communication - many of the causes of conflict at work can be resolved by face-to-face interaction. See managing conflict.