Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, WhatsApp – what happened to the days when life was just a landline and the only photos you got were from the chemist? Now employers are entering into a world of never ending realms of extensions to the workplace. Cyber bullying, trolling, revenge porn are providing new avenues for the breakdown in working relationships and breaches of Equality & Diversity including sexual harassment. How does an employer cope with all of this, never mind control it?
This article provides key hints and tips to ensure these cases are managed correctly and some further information where your process can break down.
Ensure Employer Protection – A critical part in maintaining the employer-employee relationship is to ensure boundaries and standards are set and maintained. This involves, in an ideal situation, a thorough induction process, detailed Social Media and Equality & Diversity policies and training to ensure understanding of the consequences should the employee conduct themselves in a manner not consistent with company expectations. This provides evidence of methods taken by the company to prevent such issues arising.
Ensure the issue is dealt with – In the case of Social Media, this has often become a taboo topic. For example, when I take internal workshops it important to be realistic about the types of breaches you will experience. Shy or embarrassed managers chairing disciplinaries will often not probe to the required level or feel uncomfortable discussing this in detail. This will often lead to an unproductive meeting. A key aspect to remember is that often in these cases the employee is not ashamed of what they have done or fails to understand the seriousness of their actions. To ensure this is dealt with in a thorough manager the issue must be explored in the same level as any other matter would be.
Ensure a thorough Process – It is important your policy reflects key aims of the company’s views & standards and ensure that the processes are adhered to no matter what the situation. Thorough understanding of the policy ensures a fair process and highlights to the employee exactly what they have breached and the potential consequences of their actions. It is also worthwhile to ensure Social Media restrictions are mentioned within other policies to ensure its strength e.g. GDPR policies, Bullying and Harassment, Dignity at Work and the Disciplinary policy,
Ensure a fair decision – Tribunal decisions including Trasler v B&Q Ltd detail how a decision must fall within the reasonable band of responses and how important and sometimes fundamental checks must be considered to ensure the thoroughness and fairness of the decision. Such checks would include the employee’s length of service, previous disciplinary record and precedents set within the Company. A knee jerk reaction often leads to pre-determined outcomes which are difficult to support at Tribunal.
Ensure learnings are executed – Often after completing one of these cases, the first thing we want to do is switch off and forget it ever happened. However, it is important to take time to reflect and evaluate how the breach occurred and what mechanisms must be put in place to ensure the protection of the company. With this reflection must come implementation of mechanisms to minimise highlighted risks or flaws within the process for any future proceedings. Often to aid prevention this also means the upskilling of managers or supervisors to be able to handle complex cases with ease through training courses. This is critical, if similar issues occur in the future and an employer hasn’t taken reasonable steps to improve policy, process or practice. A tribunal may often reflect on whether the policy has had any recent updates for example or check for recent training records.
Ensure your culture is reflected in the Policy In some instances there seems to be an additional focus on comments made on a social media platform based on who can view these. However, is it reasonable to challenge for language or comments made online by an individual when other colleagues could be saying the same things every day in work? Often a larger focus is given to Social Media cases within organisations, however is there a bigger cultural issue at play that needs to be reviewed and managed alongside this specific process. A culture which allows for similar instances ‘off-line’ can lead to the breakdown of some cases. Also if your policies state this as a misconduct offence does this potentially state it is tolerated within your workplace to an extent?
Ensure your managers don’t hunt down problems – When I worked as a line manager, I was conscious not to have colleagues on my personal sites. When I discussed this amongst my peers, many of them did have colleagues on networking sites so if any conduct issues arose, they would be able to enforce the Policy. Often this was the case where there was friction or a lack of trust within the employee-manager relationship. This type or targeted behaviour can often lead to future bullying and harassment claims, which can complicate your process further. This process can often occur at this level with recruitment where a manager has a conscious bias on the individual based upon content displayed on their personal pages.
A transparent organisation leads to higher engagement levels and with the manager relationship seeming to intrude outside the realms of the workplace, employees can feel restricted to exhibit their freedom outside of work relationships.
Social Media is an ever growing problem for managers and HR professionals alike. Even the best managed cases can still be deemed not reasonable by Employment Tribunals. However a strong defence and a culture focused on Equality and Diversity ensures a harmonious workplace with employee respect.
For further information, Think People are hosting a seminar “Social Media and the Workplace” on the 22nd February 2019 at our offices. For Further information please contact the office or alternatively view our website.
By Philip Moody
Senior HR Consultant