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Retales™ - misusing social media

Nick Thorpe


United Kingdom

Social media use continues to grab headlines and is a cause for concern for many retailers. Read more about how retailers should tackle the mis-use of social media by their employees.

Social media use continues to grab headlines and is a cause for concern for many retailers. Not only were social networking sites at the centre of the recent riots, which impacted heavily on retailers, but inappropriate comments made by employees on social networking sites can also give rise to disciplinary and dismissal issues in the workplace. This has been seen in a number of cases involving retailers and continues to be an issue.

Whether or not social media is used during working hours, comments made on social networking sites (which might concern the employer, colleagues, clients or customers), can damage an employer's reputation and retail brand. Employers may also be liable for an employee's misconduct (e.g. where online bullying occurs).

Depending on the circumstances, misuse of social media can be treated as misconduct, leading to disciplinary action, including dismissal. There are, however, a number of steps that retailers can take to address social media use in the workplace, including the following:

  • Implement a social media policy – this can set out the parameters of acceptable use of social media. The policy could restrict access to social networking sites during working hours; explain what will and will not be considered appropriate use of social media both in and outside the workplace (e.g. comments about the employer, other employees and clients will not be acceptable; confidential information should not be disclosed); provide guidance if social media is regularly used for work purposes and outline the sanctions for breach of the policy (e.g. disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal).
  • Incorporate social media use into other policies – social media use, and the content of a social media policy, should be reflected in other policies, including those covering disciplinary issues; bullying and harassment and equal opportunities.
  • Act consistently – as the use of social networking sites is widespread, retailers should ensure that they treat employees consistently in relation to any social media misuse. Any decision to impose sanctions should be reasonable and proportionate.

If you would like further advice on how retailers should tackle the misuse of social media, please contact Nick Thorpe, Partner and Louise Fernandes-Owen, Senior Associate (PSL) in the Employment and Pensions Group.

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