Business Technology

Thursday 18 September 2014

Five ways to stop your company getting stung over social media gaffes

Paul Lambert

Published 13/03/2014 | 02:30

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Organisations can be held liable for employees’ defamatory comments.
Organisations can be held liable for employees’ defamatory comments.

They say it's good to talk. But is it always good to gossip online?

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Not if you're the head of a company seeking to avoid legal difficulties from loud-mouthed employees on social networks.

Here are five ways to guard against your lawyers having an active time because of inappropriate staff Facebook or LinkedIn chatter.

1 Watch out for staff references to confidential material on Facebook or LinkedIn

Employment contracts, policies, contractual obligations the company may owe to third parties: all could be very sensitive if let slip on Facebook or another public social network. For example, a number of instances have been publicised here in relation to sensitive NAMA data.

In the US, a girl recently cost her parents an $80,000 (€60,000) legal settlement because her Facebook post breached a confidentiality clause.

2 Your staff’s social networking defamations can rebound on the company

Thought your employees’ remarks online never came back on the company? Think again.

Organisations need to be aware that they can be held vicariously liable for the defamatory comments of their employees and that defamation awards, and settlements, can be significant.

As the real-time working environment continues to extend outside of the actual office, liability can arise for off-site defamations.

3 ‘Likes’ can be defamatory or actionable, too

‘Liking’ online abuse content, inappropriate statements, images or videos can carry the same associations, liability and appearance of endorsement for the employer.

In other words, the employer can be held liable for permitting, assisting, endorsing, promoting and disseminating defamatory comments, or online abuse.

This is particularly so where employees are senior employees or where lots of employees are involved in viewing, ‘liking’ and commenting.

Even if liability does not arise, reputational damage can ensue.

4 Watch out for social networks as a trojan horse for IT security problems

Employees bringing their |own devices to work, packed with ever more social networking services, could definitely give your IT staff |nightmares.

The potential for malicious attacks, denials of service, trojans and other malware continues to grow: any one |

of these can prove an expensive problem for the organisation.

5 Put social networking guidelines down in writing and keep them updated

Do your business a favour and implement social networking policies at work.

If there is no policy in place, the company cannot argue that specific terms have been breached, with consequent difficulties for trying to discipline an employee.

Also, keep these policies updated: having an outdated policy can be as bad as having no policy at all in place. Contracts and policies must be regularly updated and re-appraised as new issues arise.

Paul Lambert is a solicitor and author of ‘Social Networking, Law, Rights and Policy’ (Clarus Press)

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