Social media have an important part to play in driving any business forward, and companies are also aware that employees will access social media for both business and personal use.

Social media are interactive and allow people to communicate instantly with each other, or to share data in a public forum. This does, however, blur the distinction between professional and personal life; and comments made on social media sites, such as Twitter, Facebook and e-mail, can damage both a business and a person’s career.

The term ‘social media’ also covers blogs and video and image-sharing websites, such as YouTube and Flickr. There are many more examples of social media than can be listed here and this is a constantly changing area.

Over 26 million people have access to the internet and 70 per cent of them use it every day. There has seen a substantial growth since 2000 across the world – within Europe over 60 per cent of people have access to the internet.

Social media in a business context
Social media sites can benefit a business in major ways and can assist in obtaining professional contacts, business opportunities and development, searching for new staff and advertising the products they sell

Employees also use media sites whilst at work every day via smart phones and computers, which can be a great asset to an organisation. It is, however, illegal to send a message to another person that is indecent, grossly offensive, threatening or false under the Malicious Communications Act 1998.

The Act covers all forms of electronic communication, telecommunication and even a letter. There is no requirement for the message to reach the recipient – it is still illegal if it is sent, delivered or transmitted.

An employee should be aware that he or she loses the right to privacy once their comments are placed in a public forum and they should be mindful of their actions.

Social media in the workplace
Employers should be clear about the positives and negatives on the use of social media and should have policies that include statements about harassment and bullying.
Whilst working within any organisation, an employee should not:

•    use Facebook, mobile telephones or the internet in working hours unless your employer gives you permission to do so
•    make any public comment which could damage the reputation of the business, its clients or your colleagues
•    disclose confidential company information.

If an employee is found to be using social media sites inappropriately, they should be aware that their employer can take disciplinary action against them; if this is the case employees should be treated fairly and consistently. The employer should then assist the employee in being able to remove any derogatory comments that have been placed concerning any of their accounts.

The use of social media in the workplace may be deemed as gross misconduct and could lead to dismissal from the practice. More and more employees have access to computers at work and participate in social media activities and if used incorrectly they may face disciplinary action being taken against them in any of the following categories:
•  vandalism of, or otherwise intentionally interfering with, the practices computers or computer/ telephone network
•  posting derogatory, offensive, discriminatory or defamatory comments online about the practice, its employees, clients or customers; or otherwise conducting themselves in a way that is detrimental to the practice or brings it into serious disrepute
•  breaches of copyright or any other proprietary interest belonging to the practice
•  using the practices property to carry out work for third parties on a personal basis i.e. ‘moonlighting’.

Social media in your personal life
A company should recognise that many of its employees may make use of social media in a personal capacity whilst at work and although they are not acting on behalf of the organisation, employees must be aware that they can damage the firm if they are recognised as being part of it.

Employees should be allowed to say that they work for a particular company as it is natural for its staff to want to discuss their work on social media. An employees online profile should not, however, contain the company’s name.

If an employee does discuss their work on social media, they should include on their profile a statement along the following lines: “The views I express here are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer/company”;

Any communications that an employee makes in a professional capacity through social media must not:

•    bring the organisation into disrepute
•    breach confidentiality
•    breach copyright
•    fail to give acknowledgement where permission has been given to reproduce something
•    do anything that could be considered discriminatory against – or bullying or harassment of – any individual. 

For further support with this or any other HR issue, BVNA members can call the BVNA Members Advisory Service Helpline on 01822 870270


Nicky Ackerley BA(HONS)

Nicky Ackerley HR Support is owned by Nicky Ackerley who has a BA (Hons) Business Studies Degree, is a member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and who has been a practising HR manager for over 20 years. HR Support Consultancy has provided the BVNA Members Advisory Service (formerly known as the Industrial Relations Service) since it began in 2002.

• VOL 29 • June 2014 • Veterinary Nursing Journal