What are Social Media Risks in the Workplace?

Online Harassment and Company Liability

Social Media
There has been an explosion of social media technologies – like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and others.
Additional Risks This expanding Social Network creates additional risks for companies when it comes to discrimination and harassment.

Vicarious Liability
Employers take social media very seriously. An employee’s actions can have major consequences, and employers can be held liable for any instances of online harassment. This is known as “vicarious liability.” Outside Business Hours Even when posting outside business hours, an employee can be disciplined for offensive or hostile activity.

The Risks of Social Media
Sarah had never stopped to consider who was viewing her social media and what sort of impression it might give. She didn’t realize that what you say online can affect the reputation of our company. Let’s look at what happened at each stage of her journey.
Check-in desk “I was the PR manager for a communications firm. It was my dream job. One ignorant post on social media cost me my whole career.”

“I should have known better; Public Relations is my job! It happened on a long flight. I was on vacation, with nothing but sun and sand on my mind.” In-flight “One of the passengers on the flight annoyed me, so I posted a joking comment about them on social media. I didn’t think about its discriminatory tone.”

Heavy landing
“When I landed, I noticed that lots of people had picked up on my poor choice of words. It was reposted 3,000 times. Then I got a call from my manager. I was being terminated by my employer. My career was ruined. All from one post on social media.”

Just a Joke
Chad thought it would be funny to hack into his colleague Lewis’ dating profile to change his sexual orientation. Another colleague uses the same website, and the news went viral throughout the company. What are the two possible consequences of this prank?

  •  Lewis’ reputation could be damaged.
  •  The results won’t be drastic for Chad – he may be disciplined, but there’s no way he could lose his job.
  • Colleagues of Chad and Lewis may feel their orientation is being mocked.

Sexual orientation is a protected group. Mocking someone’s sexual orientation will likely upset many people and cause hurt.
A person making mocking comments about a colleague’s sexual orientation could open themselves and the company up to a harassment and discrimination claim. By making a “joke” based on sexual orientation, even those who aren’t the subject of the joke may feel like their orientation is being mocked.

Inappropriate Comments
Darnell is a company manager. An employee approached him to report her colleague Jack’s recent Instagram post. The post shows Jack at a soccer match wearing a polo with the company logo on it. He captioned the image with an inappropriate and very lewd caption about females. What reasonable action can Darnell take in this case?

  •  Because Jack’s actions were after work hours and off work premises, Darnell can take no action. It shouldn’t matter what an employee does or says when they are not at work.
  •  As Jack did not say anything about a fellow employee, Darnell can’t take any action in this situation.
  • Darnell can terminate Jack’s employment. Jack’s actions and comments have a negative impact on the company and are not in line with the company’s own internal policies and commitment to providing a respectful workplace free of harassment and discrimination.

Thanks for helping your colleagues
Chad and Darnell now understand the risks of social media use and the importance of always exercising good judgment. They know that employees can be held liable for their actions outside of work hours and off work premises, as well as for their conduct within the workplace. Remember, it’s important that you:

  •  Understand the risks of social media use.
  •  Treat social media with the same respect you treat internal work communications.

This is an extract from our Workplace Conduct course.

Download our Workplace Conduct booklet.
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