On October 22, 2010, the Province reported that the BC Labour Relations Board upheld the firing of two employees of West Coast Mazda for making disrespectful, damaging and derogatory comments about their employer on Facebook. What makes this case more interesting is that the comments were made during non-work hours, and were not sent from company computers. Also, the employees’ manager was included as one of their Facebook “friends”.

While this case may be one of the first in Canada to support a firing because of Facebook, it likely will not be the last.

For employers, does this mean that companies need to set policies for staff on the use of social media? The best answer, unfortunately, is “it depends”.

It depends on many factors:

  • Productivity – Is using social media affecting employee productivity or efficiency at work? Are employees checking their social media accounts once in a while, similar to their personal use of the telephone or email while at work, or are employees addicted and tweeting more than they’re working?
  • Performance – Are employees getting their jobs done? If you’ve set performance expectations, goals and targets with employees clearly and they are meeting or exceeding those expectations, what other concerns may there be?
  • Culture – Does your company’s culture support the use of social media? Is internet technology an integral part of your business strategy? Is it a key component of your company’s business offering? Or, is your culture more accustomed to in-person or telephone communication?
  • Job function – Does social media support employees to perform their jobs more effectively? Perhaps it makes sense for some employees and departments (e.g. Marketing, Public Relations, Business Development) and not for others (e.g. Production line, Legal).
  • Public Image – Would employees using social media to discuss company happenings have a positive or an adverse impact on the company’s public image? Is any and all publicity good for your company? Or is more discretion required?

The answers to the above questions will help determine the direction to take regarding the creation of company human resources policies on social media.

If a company HR policy on social media is necessary, some key areas to address include:

  • Timing of Use of Social Media

Communicate to employees when it is acceptable for them to use social media. Are they able to tweet anytime? Perhaps you want to limit Facebook checking to breaks only? Or maybe, it’s not acceptable at any time during the workday?

  • Limits on Company Information Shared on Social Media

Determine what limitations, if any, there will be on the amount of information employees can share about the company, their job, and the daily occurrences at work, in their personal profiles and in their regular updates. For example, can employees mention who their employer is? Can they talk about triumphs or difficulties they have at work? Or is any mention of work off-limits?

  •  Relation of Social Media to Performing Job Functions

Identify and clarify whether social media is beneficial for particular job functions and, if so, communicate expectations on how employees are to use social media to carry out their work. Will employees be expected to use Twitter on a frequent basis? What frequency? If they do so outside of work hours, will it be paid? How will success be measured?

As more and more employees incorporate social media into their everyday life, the boundaries between personal and work life will continue to blur. Social media will not be disappearing anytime soon so companies need to adapt. The most important recommendation we can make is to link your company’s social media policy to your company’s employment brand. Your company policy to allow or restrict employee use of social media will set the tone for what type of employer you are. Will this tone ultimately help you to attract and retain staff or deter them for working for your company?

For more information of social media policies, you can also read an article written by Cissy Pau, Principal Consultant of Clear HR Consulting, for BC Business magazine.


Copyright 2010 Clear HR Consulting Inc. All rights reserved.