Staff on Facebook and Twitter? Five things you need to know to avoid a social media lawsuit

Legal Eye: Tap into social media but minimise the liabilities...

Many employers now see the benefits of their staff using social media but that doesn't mean businesses should turn a blind eye to the legal risks, says lawyer Kate Hodgkiss.

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social networks link millions of people across the world every day. The sites have become an integral part of the way we live and work. But in the workplace, at least, their impact is not always positive and can expose employers to serious legal liabilities.

In October, global law firm DLA Piper published research into social media in the workplace. The message was clear. Employers are capitalising on the social media phenomenon but their policies and procedures are failing to keep up. Here are the five main reasons why employers should sit up and take notice.

Facebook, Twitter

Staff posting comments or tweeting about colleagues or business activities present a risk to employersPhoto: Annette Shaff/Shutterstock

1. What staff post on social media sites may damage the employer's reputation and brand

DLA Piper's report shows that 65 per cent of employers actually encourage their employees to use social media for work-related activities.

However, with this activity comes some potentially serious ramifications, particularly as the line between work and private life is often a hard one to draw.

Employees may intentionally or unintentionally cause damage to the employer's reputation and brand by posting unfavourable comments about the organisation or information which potentially defames third parties.

Staff may also post controversial opinions, or display information about their private life which, from the employer's perspective, is inappropriate to their role.

2. Comments posted on social media sites by employees may harass or discriminate against colleagues

According to the research, 59 per cent of employees use Facebook for personal use, and 50 per cent use Twitter. However, employees using these sites for personal use also admit to posting information directly relating to their employer or colleagues.

Some 22 per cent of employees surveyed have posted a status update, or tweeted, about a colleague and 28 per cent have posted photos of colleagues or business activities. This activity clearly presents a risk to employers who can be vicariously liable for...

By Kate Hodgkiss

Kate Hodgkiss is a partner in DLA Piper's Employment, Pensions & Benefits practice. She advises on all aspects of employment law, encompassing practical advice and support on day-to-day issues, together with advice on major reorganisations and strate...