Care Update: Be prepared to take a strong line on social media

As mobile devices make social media sites accessible at any time, controlling usage of the likes of Facebook and Twitter becomes increasingly difficult. For care home operators there are a number of potential problems if staff are regularly using social media whilst at work - and at home.

Firstly, because access to these sites is now not restricted to sitting at computers, where it may be easier to monitor, but more often through personal mobile phones, there is the danger that staff could be easily distracted, focusing more on social updates than on the needs of those they are caring for. Clearly in these instances there would be the scope for standards of care to drop.

Another issue is the danger of defamation - making adverse comments about the care home could be hugely damaging to reputation.

Added to that is the possibility that careless comments may infringe the privacy of residents. A further potential area for trouble is that derogatory chat about a work colleague could end up subject to a constructive dismissal or discrimination claim by the member of staff affected.T

he potential for misuse of the channel by staff cannot be overstated. As an employer you need to be well prepared to deal with inappropriate use of social media by employees. As with many things, the best approach is to take action before the problem arises:

Setting precedents Defamation Disciplinary action

An outright ban?

Set the rules

Social media usage out of working hours

Practical Pointers

Make sure you have well defined internet, email and social media policies which cover usage both in and outside of the workplace, whether or not on an employer’s equipment. Such a policy should outline what disciplinary action may be taken and whether this includes summary dismissal.

It is important that the policy establishes afair and proportionate process for monitoring online activity and that staff are aware of this. Once established, you must ensure the policy is clearly followed and enforced. It should be made available to all staff and appropriate disciplinary action, in accordance with the policy, should be taken in the event of its breach.

Your disciplinary policy should make it clear that a breach of your policies will amount to gross misconduct and may entitle you to summarily dismiss an employee.

However, do not forget that you still need to go through a fair procedure before dismissing an employee even for gross misconduct. This means an investigation will need to be carried out and a hearing held with the employee before a decision whether or not to dismiss is made.

Disciplinary action should only be taken where there is genuine evidence of damage, whether to the employer/employee relationship or to the reputation of the business.

Following a fair assessment of any impact on the business, the type of disciplinary sanction should also be given due consideration, to ensure it is within the band of reasonable responses.

Once implemented, your social media policy must be regularly reviewed and updated to ensure it remains effective and in accordance with current legislation.Let them know - your policies must be made known and readily available to all staff; the staff handbook is the ideal place to refer to them.

The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the date of publication and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.