I have a friend who keeps posting on social media all the great things she gets to do with her job. She is genuinely shouting, “I love my job!”.  Which employer would not love that?  But, to encourage that, is it best to give free reign to staff on social media, or should an employer put in place rules?

Here are some issues that come up which need thinking through when it comes to the bad and the ugly sides of social media at work:

Making disparaging comments about work

Careful – not everything justifies dismissal.  Asda was not entitled to dismiss a manager who had posted that although she was supposed to love her customers, hitting them with a pickaxe would frankly make her far happier.

Slagging off a colleague on social media

Is it ok if it’s on their private page?  In one example, an employer was entitled to dismiss someone for making comments about a colleague, despite the offended colleague not being a Facebook “friend” and only hearing about the comments because someone told them about them.  However, the comments were really offensive and the offender refused to take them down.

Spending too much time on social media at work

This should be dealt with either as a performance issue or possibly a conduct issue.  You could focus on work output, or disallow social media for a time, or even start issuing warnings.

Employee off sick is posting online pictures of himself having fun

Here, be careful about knee jerk reactions.  Investigate carefully before deciding that the employee is clearly not sick and has taken the mickey.

Employee has online activity/profile you disapprove of

In one example, it was fair to dismiss a probation officer sacked for his S&M online profile (despite his right to a private life and to freedom of expression).  On the flip side, it was unfair, said the courts, to demote someone who had strongly opposed gay marriage on Facebook.

So, what should you do?

There is no doubt that good policies which cover these issues will serve employers who take firm action in good stead. There are cases where the lack of policy was fatal to the employer’s defence. But policies sound tedious and boring and largely no one reads them.

My view is that you can develop a great social media plan / policy that promotes the good (engagement, brand promotion, recruitment) at the same time as it tackles the bad.  Use it as an opportunity to harness what your employees can do for you as well as warning them of the dangers of misuse.  But if such a plan is not your current priority, then I would advise that you check that your conduct policy highlights the key expectations such as protecting your reputation and zero tolerance on harassment and bullying, with a mention of social media.  And before you decide on a firm reaction, investigate, think about the true impact, give them a chance to explain and take account of mitigating factors.