Social media has become an indispensable part of communicating and doing business in modern life. The reality is that most employees are likely to use at least one social media platform and have a social media personality that extends outside the parameters of their workplace.
Employers are encouraged to have a social media policy in place that forms part of an employee’s contract of employment. This policy is not intended to limit or police what employees post on social media, but rather to be a tool of guidance for employees to be aware of the risks and consequences of the content they publish – particularly related to the employer. The policy will also ensure employees understand that the employer will be entitled to take the necessary disciplinary action against the employee in the event that he/she publishes content that is inappropriate in respect of the employer’s business, brings the employer’s name into disrepute or is in breach of the policy.
Advantages of having a social media policy
- Uphold the Reputation of the Company.
A company’s reputation is of paramount importance for its success and a social media policy aims to educate employees on what content is appropriate to post in respect of the company. For instance, an employee reposting content related to the company onto their LinkedIn account reflects well on the company and further gives the company the right exposure.
- Protection of Company Data.
The use of social media in the workplace may make the company’s network vulnerable to viruses or other malware attacks. This could potentially pose a threat to the company’s confidential information. If employees limit their use of social media usage in the workplace, this could avoid the acceptance of click bait links and spontaneous pop up blocks from malicious websites.
- Overall Responsible Use of Social Media.
A detailed social media policy can also encourage the respect for professional boundaries in an employee’s overall use of their social media. For instance, and even though it may not be a requirement in terms of the employer’s social media policy, the employee could include a disclaimer in their social media profile description which states that “The views expressed are my own, and not that of my employer.”
Although this is a preventative measure, it will not provide absolute protection from liability in the event an employee misuses their social media platform; it is just reinforcement that the individual has their own social media personality and that the contents they publish, share, retweet or post on their social media platforms is in no way affiliated with their employer.
In the case of EDCON v CANTAMESSA, an employee published a Facebook post voicing her opinion on the 2015 Cabinet Reshuffle.
The post was not made in the workplace nor was it done during office hours, but the court found that it is still carried the risk of reputational damage to the employer as it associated the employee’s social media with the organization in which she was employed. The employer then deemed it necessary to have a disciplinary inquiry during which the employee was found guilty of the following:
- When she published the Facebook post, her Facebook profile clearly indicated that she was employed by Edcon;
- The Facebook post was made public and was read by customers and the public at large;
- The Facebook post attracted negative media attention and negative social media activity (which placed Edcon’s reputation at risk); and
- The Facebook post was considered racist and did not conform to the values of Edcon’s business.
The initial finding of the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (“the Commissioner”) was that the dismissal of the employee was substantively unfair stating that the misconduct did not occur in the workplace and thus the employer’s social media policy and disciplinary policies should not be applicable.
However, the arbitration award handed down by the Commissioner was subsequently set aside and the decision of Edcon to dismiss the employee was found substantively fair, with the court holding that irrespective of the misconduct complained of occurring away from the workplace, it did not necessarily preclude the employer from disciplining its employee in respect thereof.
An employer having a social media policy should not restrict employees from using social media but rather be a tool to equip employees on how to use social media in the most beneficial manner and to ensure that anything that is said on social media platforms, whether or not it is about the employer and even if it is after office hours – does not bring the employer into disrepute.
Feel free to contact us for advice and assistance on drafting a comprehensive but understandable social media policy for your company.
  4 BALR 359 (CCMA)