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Employee social media use

How To Manage Inappropriate Online Employee Statements

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We’ve always been told growing up that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Unfortunately in 2021 society, that rule can often be nonexistent. This is why having an employee social media policy is something to consider.

In the era of heightened sensitivity and political correctness, everyone has an opinion. Many people have no qualms sharing their unfiltered thoughts through social media and sometimes even in person. This is demonstrated in the increase of videos depicting bad behavior, from organizations to political figures to rude experiences at your local eatery. #toomuchpress.

It may be hard to believe, but when it comes to employees and social media use outside of work, how your team acts and behaves online can impact your company’s overall reputation.

You’d probably be caught off guard if you received a report or notification that an employee made an inappropriate statement online. Questions like those below may immediately flood your mind:

  • What did they post/say?
  • Do they mention any colleagues by name?
  • What platform did they use?
  • Is there a video?

No need to panic. When it comes to employees and social media use outside of work, here’s what you can do if (or when) an employee makes an inappropriate statement online:

1. Get The Right Parties Involved

Don’t feel you need to take on this type of incident by yourself. Partner with your HR manager or representative so you have support. They can help with research and fact-finding to uncover things such as: if this is a first-time or repeat offense, and if other company employees are involved.

Similar to an investigation, you don’t want to ring any alarm bells, so limit the members involved to include only the employee, management, the HR team and your communications team.

2. Act Swiftly

Addressing the issue as quickly as possible can prevent a nasty escalation. Online comments can spread like wildfire, with facts extracted or exaggerations added in. At the very start, make sure you:

  • Confirm that it was one of your employees who made the statement
  • Evaluate the seriousness of the message
  • Analyze the details of the matter
  • Consider whether it could be viewed as a violation of any harassment or discrimination policies

Speak directly with the employee regarding concerns and outline the consequences of their actions. Act under the severity of the situation and don’t just dismiss someone for something that would require a warning and additional training.

3. Don’t Forget The Law

Employment protection for lawful conduct outside work or any political affiliations are present in some states, but it doesn’t mean an offending employee is untouchable. You just need to be able to prove how their actions outside of work violated your policies. In the case of discipline and termination, you need to show documents highlighting permissible reasons.

4. Close The Loop On The Source

Let the person who raised or reported the concern know that you’re dealing with the situation to prevent further escalation. Also, remember to only share information relevant to their specific claim. This means that you will want to keep anything outside of how the direct situation is being dealt with confidential (for example, disciplinary action).

5. Release A Company Announcement Or Memo

It definitely doesn’t feel nice having an employee misbehave online when it’s boldly written on their LinkedIn profile that they work for your company. A best practice after an incident such as this is to revisit your company’s policy or requirements when it comes to employees and social media use outside of work.

This is your opportunity to reiterate why such behavior will not be tolerated and what is required when they list the company as their employer. Clearly outlining and communicating these guidelines will ensure everyone knows what the expectations are.

6. Update Your Company’s Employee Social Media Policy

This is also an excellent time to spotlight any social media and communications policies in your employee handbook. If you don’t have one, it’s a great time to consider creating one.

Ensure the policy is updated and ask employees to acknowledge in writing that they have read it and agreed to it. It’s also a good practice to review this policy yearly in order to reflect any critical updates and amendments needed.

Even with this great outline for managing inappropriate online behavior, there is still a scale of subjectivity. While some statements don’t require a lot of analysis to decide whether they sounded right or okay, others can easily be twisted and have many meanings.

Then comes the complicated case of not making a mountain out of a molehill, but still needing to address and effectively handle any public concerns just because some people were more sensitive than others.

This is why well-defined policies, coupled with training are fundamental. Having a healthy organizational culture where respect for differences and opinions is promoted will at least intuitively give employees a good idea of what and what not to say online. At the end of the day, it all boils down to some R-E-S-P-E-C-T; let’s all give some.