When employees go rogue: how to navigate what your staff can and can’t say on social

This week we saw the Tasmanian Government land in hot water over its’ proposed social media policy for public servants. The Government’s draft guidelines suggested public servants be wary of criticising politicians and the government, associating with groups or individuals, liking and sharing posts, and even using the angry face emoji.

Understandably, public servants felt a bit 😡😡 about the policy and the Government subsequently beat a hasty retreat, withdrawing the draft guidelines.

However, the policy and the public backlash brings to light a thorny issue, and a question that many employers are afraid to ask: can you stop your employees from expressing their views online?

The answer is both yes and no. Realistically, you can’t stop employees from utilising social media and using digital platforms to express their views. What you can do is set out clear and reasonable guidelines for what is and isn’t appropriate to say online.

If an employee’s posts or actions online relate to the business or its competitors – or they are posting while at work, or in their direct capacity as an employee – they can be required to act in line with the company’s code of conduct and in a way that does not negatively reflect on the business or bring the business into disrepute in any way. A well formulated social media policy goes a long way toward preventing issues before they arise.

But a social media scandal can derail even the best planning. Whether its contractors filming a viral challenge video on site without wearing correct safety gear, a disgruntled employee airing their grievances with a boss’s behaviour or an executive sharing less-than-palatable views on contentious social issues, it’s likely that most businesses will have to manage a public social media situation at some point.

Preparation is key; it’s essential to consider your responses and put a plan in place for situations where an employee’s online actions bring significant public, industry or media attention to your company.

Assess the damage. Has the employee caused reputational damage to your brand? Will you lose clients or customers because of this?
Mitigate your losses. Clearly state that the employee’s views are not in line with the company’s. This may involve liaising directly with key stakeholders and clients, speaking to the media and putting your own messages out on social media depending on the severity of the issue.
Decide how to deal with your employee. Is the incident bad enough to fire them? Think carefully about this one (and consult your lawyers) because if you terminate someone’s employment and they think it’s unfair…
Get ready to take your case to Fair Work, and deal with the public backlash that will bring. Let Cricket Australia serve as a warning

Social media opinion creep is increasingly blurring the lines between people’s personal and professional selves. Social media, constant access to work emails and flexible working arrangements are only making it harder to draw the line between private and public.

If you’re worried about how to navigate the interaction between corporate and social, you’re not alone. At Clarity we straddle both worlds – if you want to talk through what it all means for your business, call us.