When Social Networks Harm Your Company

March 22nd, 2017

What to do with the use of social media by your employees?

ÉLIANE GOBEIL, lawyer | Quebec City

One morning, you wake up and, as usual, you check your Facebook profile. You’re astonished to find that one of your employees is making nasty comments about you publicly and saying things that harm your company’s image. Most of your employees, and some of your clients, can see these comments on the social network. You’re completely dumbfounded. How should you react?

Obviously, you have a general right to penalize the employee for such an offence, and can even terminate his or her contract of employment. You could also sue the employee and claim damages for injury to your reputation. The harm done to your business in a public venue is already done. This is why it is essential that a company adopt a policy on social network use in order to make its employees aware of the potential consequences of their actions. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Proper use of social networks by its employees can be an asset for a company, by providing positive advertising that doesn’t cost anything. But the news is full of stories of employees who were fired for making comments that harmed their employer’s reputation, for disclosing confidential information, or for taking a stance on current events and identifying themselves with their employer, thus putting the company in a delicate situation with its clients. There are also cases of employees posting compromising photos without the consent of the people who were photographed, like at the open-bar company Christmas party. The consequences of such actions can be serious, for both the company and the other employees, and can lead a negative work environment.

How can you set guidelines?

Social networks are here to stay, and they are an integral part of people’s lives. Employers have much to gain in adopting guidelines on the use of social media, notably by establishing a solid policy. Notwithstanding their right to privacy, employees are bound by a duty of loyalty to the employer at all times.

The first objective is to remind the employees that their news and comments can often be seen outside their private circle of friends. The importance of dissociating employees’ personal comments from their relationship with the company must also be impressed on them.

When drafting a policy, rules, guidelines or other management tool concerning social network use, it is essential to maintain a proper balance between the employee’s right to his or her privacy and freedom of expression, and the employer’s right to manage and direct. For such a policy to be valid, the wording used and the content must be clear, reasonable and, above all, brought to the attention of those to whom it applies before it is implemented.

The courts are frequently called upon (and probably will be more and more) to rule on disputes that relate to some degree to the use of social media. The courts take a number of factors into account when deciding to uphold or quash the imposition of disciplinary measures, including the existence of a policy on social media use. Accordingly, it is essential that the policy meet the criteria relating to privacy and the protection of personal information.

How can BCF help you?

Our specialists at BCF will be pleased to guide you in developing a corporate policy on social network use with a view to preventing inappropriate use by your employees, and in structuring a system of penalties and sanctions.

Éliane Gobeil is a member of BCF’s Internet strategic team, which offers our clients strategic advice regarding their online presence. This is a continually evolving environment which calls for the expertise of a multidisciplinary team like that of BCF.