How is social media impacting your workplace?

HR Team

April 20 2023
We are all familiar with social networking sites, such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, TikTok, and LinkedIn, which have become a key method of communication, enabling people to interact, and share information and ideas at the press of a button. Whilst social media has become an essential part of many people’s lives, and a key tool for organisations in terms of the marketing of services, promoting the reputation and sharing information, the widespread use of social media both at work and outside can also have a negative impact on organisations.

It’s estimated that the misuse of social media by workers costs the British economy billions of pounds every year.

As such, it’s vital that employers think carefully about the standards of conduct that they want their employees to uphold when using the internet, emails, smartphones, and networking websites, and review their policies to ensure the expected standards of conduct are clearly outlined. Policies should also provide employees with guidance on what can and cannot be said about the organisation on social media, to protect its reputation. There should also be clarity on what monitoring may be undertaken, where there are reasonable grounds to believe that there has been a breach of the company rules. Relevant policies are likely to include a social media policy and a code of conduct, underpinned by a disciplinary procedure and rules. These should not only outline the standards of conduct expected but should state that inappropriate conduct and procedural breaches may lead to disciplinary action being taken.

With robust policies and procedures in place, employers will be in a stronger position when required to justify taking disciplinary action. Where policies are unclear or out of date, employees could claim they were not aware of expected standards and/or that they may be subject to disciplinary action for procedural breaches, thus weakening the employer’s defence and increasing the risk of a successful claim for unfair dismissal.


We have certainly seen an increase in disciplinary cases during the past few years that relate to social media, with some common themes that tend to resurface:

  •   An employee posts something on social media that could bring the employer into disrepute or damage its reputation.
  • An employee socialises outside of work, inappropriate conduct is captured on camera or video and posted on social media.
  • More recently, employees have broken COVID rules and posted evidence of this, or been tagged by others doing so, on their social media accounts.
  • Employees allow pupils to follow them on TikTok or Instagram, or accept a friend request from a pupil and communicate with them via social networking.

These are just a snapshot of the type of social media-related concerns that we frequently see. It’s crucial that policies and procedures consider the range of issues that might occur, from a professional standards perspective and for safeguarding reasons. For example, a robust policy will stipulate that an employee’s behaviour or actions, both in and out of the workplace, must not compromise their position within the work setting, or bring the School into disrepute, and there should be strict guidelines for employees in education settings about who they can have online friendships with.


So, what action should be taken?

When allegations of misconduct relating to social media are brought to an employee’s attention, it is not uncommon for them to be embarrassed or remorseful, acknowledging their actions and admitting they have breached procedure. However, whilst it might be difficult to deny an allegation where there is clear evidence to support it (which is often the case with social media evidence), some employees may stand by what they have posted and/or provide mitigation for their actions which will need to be considered. The employee’s initial response to the allegations and a previous disciplinary record is likely to have an impact on how the matter is dealt with, alongside the seriousness of the allegations presented. The aim of any disciplinary action, whether informal or formal, is to try to prevent further incidences of misconduct from occurring. A formal disciplinary investigation may be appropriate, yet launching into a formal investigation is not always necessary and should be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

The employee who is alleged to have breached social media rules might be a model employee who has made an error of judgement, while some cases relate to repeat offenders who have not heeded or understood previous advice or warnings given. Employers might be tempted to deal with these types of cases differently and be more lenient towards the model employee. It is important that careful consideration is given to the circumstances of each case, the seriousness of the breach, and that a consistent approach is taken in accordance with the procedure to ensure fairness and equality and to mitigate claims of discrimination. However, should the matter proceed to a disciplinary hearing, long service and an unblemished record can be a mitigating factor when determining the sanction level. For example, if a long-serving employee with a clean disciplinary record commits a serious breach of the social media policy that could justify dismissal, it may be fair for a final written warning to be issued, even where, in the same circumstances, another employee is dismissed.

Managing disciplinary issues takes up valuable management time and is likely to have a financial impact, so employers should do what they can to reduce social media related issues that require intervention. Many issues could be avoided if employers better educate their employees and remind them of the expected standards of conduct, in accordance with the employer’s policy, that staff are required to periodically review. Regular reminders to employees could be considered to support this, emphasising the key crunch points: ensuring online profiles are consistent with the professional image expected by the employer; not posting material that could damage the reputation of the school or which causes concern about suitability to work with children and young people; recommend that employees activate relevant privacy settings on social media accounts, to minimise the risk of social media mishaps and, from a safeguarding perspective, to prevent pupils from contacting employees through personal profiles or accessing photos or personal information.


If you’re looking for advice about code of conduct and safer recruitment, or would like to learn more about our policies, letters and training, please talk to us.

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