What steps should retailers take to tackle the misuse of social media by their employees?

Many retailers have embraced the use of social media as a means not only to communicate with customers directly and to promote their brand, but also as a means to sell their goods. However, the misuse of social media, very often by employees wishing to vent their frustrations about customers or changes in the workplace, is becoming a growing problem for many retailers.  

Whether or not social media is used during working hours, comments made by employees on social networking sites can potentially damage both an employer’s reputation and retail brand, often leading to the need for disciplinary action.

This occurred last summer when an Argos employee was reportedly dismissed after complaining about his job on Facebook. Employers may also be liable for employees’ actions on social networking sites – for instance, online bullying.

Nick Thorpe, partner in Field Fisher Waterhouse’s employment and pensions team, says there are several steps retailers can take to manage social media use in the workplace and minimise liability for employees’ actions. “As highlighted by ACAS guidance, it is advisable to implement a social media policy, which defines the parameters of acceptable social media use,” says Thorpe. This could give the employer several options, he says, which include: restricting access to social media during working hours, establishing what constitutes appropriate social media use both in and outside the workplace, and underlining the distinction between business and private use of social media while outlining the sanctions for breaching the policy.

Thorpe advises other relevant company policies should be updated to incorporate guidance on social media use, including harassment and equal opportunities policies, stating that posting derogatory comments about the company may constitute gross misconduct.