What are the legal issues and problems involved with using social networking sites at work?

Social networking sites

Over the last few years there has been a steady increase in the use of social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Bebo. The vast majority of people have their own account on one of these sites with Facebook the most popular – it is becoming increasingly difficult to find an individual who does not have a profile on this particular site.

The use of social networking sites at work

Many individuals who work in offices and have continual access to the internet will use social networking sites at work. Often this is due to not having an internet connection at home and also the fact that most of their friends will also have access at work providing the ideal opportunity to use certain functions such as the instant chat function. As a consequence of this there are many potential issues faced by employers, which are as follows:

  • Decline in workplace productivity

  • IT Issues

  • Issues with confidentiality

  • Potential issues with fraud

  • Health and safety issues

  • Issues when an employee could be seen to be bringing the company into disrepute

  • Discrimination issues

Decline in workplace productivity

One of the biggest concerns for employers is that the increased use of these sites by their employees is distracting them from their work and therefore decreasing the productivity of the business. Often employees are potentially distracted immediately when arriving at work or arriving back after a break with the potential for social networking at these times increasing the potential for distraction.

IT Issues

Use of social networking sites could lead to serious IT issues with the potential for systems being corrupted and increasing the possibility of viruses being introduced to the work network. Furthermore, if the company uses specific web based system during the operation of their work the use of other staff on social networking sites could have an adverse affect on how quickly these important systems will operate.

Is there anything which I can do to stop this?

The easiest way for an employee to stop this is to introduce strict policies on when certain sites can be used. Some employers feel that a total ban is the necessary course of action whereas some feel that allowing access for a couple of hours over lunchtime is the best option. There are however, potential issues that can be faced with introducing such a policy. For example if a total ban is put in place this may have an adverse affect on employee morale. If a partial ban is put in place this may result in a complete standstill in productivity during the two hours access is allowed as each employee may wish to maximise their potential time on social networking sites.

Issues with confidentiality

If an individual employee uses the site in careless manner by accidentally disclosing their employer’s confidential information and trade secrets this could be seen as a beach of the employee’s duty of confidentiality to their employer.

Potential Issues with fraud

If an individual’s profile page contains certain information about the company which they work for this opens up the potential for that company information to be obtained by others and used to commit fraud.

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For more information on:

  • Is there any way which I can prevent this happening?
  • Health and Safety Issues
  • What should an employer do if they believe this to be the case?
  • Bringing the company into disrepute
  • Discrimination issues
  • As an employer should I look at potential employees’ social networking pages?