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Police tackle inappropriate social media use

A BBC report today indicates that police forces in England and Wales are making use of disciplinary action and social media policies to tackle inappropriate use of social media by staff both within and outwith working hours.

Steve White, chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales stressed that: “It is important to acknowledge that the majority of police officers perform their duties with the utmost integrity, discretion and in accordance with the high standards of behaviour rightly expected of them by the public.”

Sound familiar?

The disciplinary issues investigated by the police will be familiar to many employers:

  • Inappropriate pictures on Facebook and websites
  • Remarks made about senior personnel
  • Excessive and inappropriate use of the internet during working hours
  • An abusive message sent to a member of the public, and homophobic, racist or religiously aggressive comments.

Protect yourself

A well-drafted social media policy (covering both company-related and personal social media use) is the best way to guard against inappropriate use of social media by employees, and to ensure you can take appropriate disciplinary action in the event of this.

Communicate the policy to employees, and consider whether additional training is called for.

What should the policy cover?

The policy should give employees ‘advance warning’ of the standards of conduct expected of them and the types of social media activity which may lead to disciplinary action. Include appropriate restrictions to:

  • Limit personal social media use during work time
  • Protect confidential information and intellectual property
  • Prevent discrimination, harassment or bullying
  • Prevent the misuse of employees’ or customers’ personal data
  • Protect your reputation.

Can we monitor employees’ social media use?

Employee monitoring is subject to restrictions imposed by, for example, the Data Protection Act 1998. If you need advice on this please get in touch with your usual Brodies’ contact.

When is disciplinary action appropriate?

A knee-jerk reaction to inappropriate use of social media is often tempting, but as with all disciplinary issues, you should follow a fair procedure (with reference to your disciplinary policy and the ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures) and ensure that any sanction is reasonable in all the circumstances.


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