HR and social media risk

Social media risks are marketing risks, right? Wrong. They extend across the whole organisation.

Take Human Resources. This is a particularly tricky area for social media. There are substantial risks associated with recruitment, management, and an organisation’s duty to look after its employees. Let’s take a look at a few of these issues.

social media presents HR risks in recruitment, employee management and employer duty of care

Recruitment

It’s always tempting to look though a candidate’s social media profile before inviting them in. But if you do, you might just find information that you don’t want to have, because possession of it could be used to imply that you were prejudiced in some way.

For instance you don’t want to know anything about gender, race, age, disability etc before you decide whether to interview someone. And you could find that in their Facebook pages. Once you have this information, you can’t “not” have it. In the UK disability rights, age discrimination, racial discrimination and other laws could be used against you if you fail to offer the candidate a job.

A simple way of mitigating this risk is to ask someone who doesn’t have a role in selection to do the research and edit out any unwanted information before giving it to the selection team. And make sure the edited information (and the process) is archived.

By the way, never demand access to a candidate’s social media profiles during the recruitment process: the Information Commissioner will definitely frown on this!

Managing employees

You may also feel the urge to “spy” on employees’ use of social media. But it’s best not to do this unless you have a real reason to be worried about their behaviour. Monitoring employee social media posts could potentially expose you to data protection penalties as well as damaging your reputation as an employer.

If you are simply worried that someone is spending too much time on social media at work it’s probably going to be counter-productive to stop their access (they probably have a smart phone with them!) What you need is a robust social media policy that explains when and how they can use social media at work. You will need to explain this to them face to face, to give them an opportunity to ask for clarifications. And you should explain any sanctions for lack of compliance with the policy.

Once you have that in place then you will still need to avoid monitoring their use – unless you have a real and valid reason for doing so. This could be something like productivity, worries about confidentiality, or bullying. But you will need a reason. (And as always keep a record of any evidence that has prompted you to monitor them.)

In addition to making sure you have a robust social media policy in place, refrain from asking employees to link with you on social media sites in such a way that you can see their posts: they might argue they were “coerced” into letting you have access to their private information. And if employees invite you to follow them, then if you accept remind them that this does give you access to their posts.

Caring for employees

All employers have a duty to take reasonable care of their employees. With social media, at the very simplest level, this can be a requirement to protect people from workplace bullying that can take place through social media. If you are faced with a complaint about this you will need to take it as seriously as you would any complaint about bullying – it’s no less serious just because it is online. And remember, if it is a colleague doing the bullying it doesn’t matter whether this happens when they are at home on their “private” social media accounts.

The risks multiply if you have asked (or even encouraged) people to use social media as part of their working day.

Social media activity often involves dealing with the general public, for instance replying to a customer complaint. But dealing with the public can sometimes be problematic as some people feel that it is appropriate to use abusive language to people they don’t know and can’t see. This can be upsetting to people, especially if the abusive language is personal.

You will need to ensure that all employees who deal with the public via social media realise that there is a possibility of personal abuse when having conversations with members of the public. Ensure that employees are aware that abusive language from anyone is unacceptable and that if it happens they should escalate the problem to a senior colleague if they feel the need to.

There are also potentially some privacy issues. Encouraging staff to use social media is fine, but forcing them to sign up to networks they don’t want to could be construed as a constructive breach of their privacy. For instance if you force someone to sign up to Facebook in order to post messages about your company then you are forcing them to give information out such as their birthday and gender. Instead provide them with a company owned account they can use.

Remember that privacy can also be infringed if pictures of employees (or clients) at company events are published without their permission, especially if they are depicted in an embarrassing situation. So do get people’s permission first!

Don’t leave it to the marketers!

These aren’t the only HR risks associated with social media. But they are the most commonly found ones. And they are serious. That’s why you need to have a risk management process that is capable of dealing with these risks.

If someone in the marketing department is in charge of social media (as they frequently are) you will also need to ensure that your HR department also have access to the necessary information and has an input into how you manage social media. It’s common sense business practice.

Want to learn more? Then get in touch with Mosoco on 07855 341 589 or jeremy@mosoco.co.uk.

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