Social media has the power to accelerate business growth, but there are legal pitfalls and hidden workplace obligations for employers and employees alike.
“Our news headlines are filled with stories about how social media has transformed business by improving client/customer engagement, building new business and accelerating growth. But alongside these are cautionary tales of rogue usage, online bullying, and gotcha-moments that have the potential to damage profiles and relationships, or worse,” says DEAN FRITH, partner at Baker Love Lawyers.
“When you look at all the potential problems, social media might seem too hot to handle, especially for a business that is risk-averse as many are, but that doesn’t need to be the case.
“Effective social media policies can provide some peace-of-mind that businesses can encourage staff and customer engagement on social media platforms as part of their marketing and communication strategies.
“A Social Media Policy drafted by experts in employment and intellectual property law can guide proper usage and help protect your business from negative consequences of deliberate or inadvertent misuse,” he says. “It should also be reviewed periodically as laws and standards applicable to social media are evolving as the law catches up with the rapid advances in social media usage.”
A lot of common problems faced by business occur through complacency, such as breaching copyright laws by posting images downloaded off the internet without permission. There can be more serious consequences for businesses like reputational damage when content is posted on social media sites by staff or the general public that breaches privacy or confidentiality, could be considered defamatory, or breaching consumer laws and advertising standards. There are also obligations on the employer to provide a safe workplace, so bullying and discrimination must be rigorously discouraged online as they are in other areas of life.
“If your business engages in social media, you probably need your staff to be on board in helping you to meet your marketing and communication goals. Therefore you need a policy outlining usage and expected behaviour from employees in terms that reduce your risk and protect your staff: a policy drafted to meet your obligations under relevant laws, such as the Fair Work Act, Workplace Surveillance Act, as well as copyright and defamation laws,” Mr Frith says.
Baker Love Lawyers employment lawyer Emma Wolfenden has seen the consequences of not having a social media policy in place.
“It is a condition of Fair Work that employees must be made aware of expected behaviour. The clearer you are with staff, the fewer misunderstandings and mistakes are likely to occur” Ms Wolfenden says. “Should a situation arise where disciplinary action is required, employees can’t claim they weren’t forewarned.
“Communication is key to an effective social media policy, so we highly recommend businesses provide an information session to staff when introducing a policy, and this is a critical component of our Social Media Policy packages for businesses.”
Baker Love Lawyers offers a general flat-fee Social Media Policy that has broad application for most businesses and includes a one-hour staff training session where one of its lawyers presents the policy to employees, carefully walking them through the expected social media standards of conduct and answering their questions.
For businesses with more specialised requirements or who are highly active in social media, Baker Love’s Premium package provides a tailored policy to accommodate unique considerations for those businesses, and ensures it complements existing workplace policies. As the laws and industry guidelines addressing social media evolve, Baker Love Lawyers will review Premium policies within 18-months to ensure it remains best practice as part of this package.