Covers the risks to employers, privacy rights and staff monitoring, Irish case law, recruitment through social media, harassment and discrimination, and tips for employers. Highlights the need for employers to implement a comprehensive policy regulating the use of IT facilities.

The increasing use of the internet and social media by employees has raised new legal issues in the workplace, especially regarding discipline and the legal liability of an employer for the acts of its employees. This has highlighted the need for employers to implement a comprehensive internet and social media policy regulating the use of IT facilities. Such a policy should be clear, concise, remove any expectation of privacy which might exist in the mind of employees, and provide for the right of an employer to monitor employees’ use of the internet.

Social media use is widespread and employers cannot ignore its presence in the workplace. The most commonly used and most familiar social networking sites include Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. The explosion of these new means of communication has thrown up many issues for employers as the distinction between employees’ work and personal lives becomes increasingly blurred and difficult to untangle.

It is not all negative however. There are many advantages for businesses to be gained through the appropriate use of these tools to develop professional contacts and business opportunities. The challenge for businesses however is to balance the positives with the inherent risks and threats that social media also bring.

Key to managing these risks is having a business appropriate internet and social media policy in place. This should form part of the contractual documentation given to all employees on joining and be distributed to existing employees with the instruction that it forms part of their terms and conditions and must be read carefully. Where such a policy does not exist, the employer may be held vicariously liable for any offensive act carried out by employees, including situations where employees were acting outside the scope of their employment.

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