• Social media has revolutionised the way in which people communicate and in some instances, has caused the boundaries between our work and personal lives to fuse.

    Social media has brought new and novel ways for companies to promote and sell their products and services and some of the larger companies have even dedicated staff to social media. But how much information does a company really want to share online with the public?

    The benefits of social media can also bring with it an almost instantaneous ability to cause harm to a company’s most precious assets – its knowledge.

    Companies may need to remind staff that certain information is confidential otherwise it could be left in a precarious situation wondering whether it has given away, unexpectedly and in some instances, unintentionally, confidential information to a competitor.

    There are, however, some proactive steps that can be done to reduce the risks that social media presents:

    • First and foremost an employee’s employment contract should contain suitable confidentiality provisions to widen the implied terms that are implemented into employment relationships. Without the contract providing additional protection, the implied position will only protect trade secrets. The Court of Appeal has given examples of what this would entail: secret processes of manufacture such as chemical formulae, designs or special methods of construction; and “other information which is of a sufficiently high degree of confidentiality as to amount to a trade secret” – so it can be seen that this is not particularly helpful when it comes to protecting commercially sensitive information. It is therefore crucial that the employment contract goes further than this. Ideally, a company should spell out what exactly it regards as confidential information and that any disclosure of such information is strictly forbidden.
    • It sounds obvious but implementing a formal written policy that is tailored to your business coupled with training, could help. This will help educate your staff on what is and what is not acceptable to post online, whether that is on their personal or work social media accounts. Take the example that an employee posts a picture of themselves on their personal Facebook account. But the photo was taken at work in front of the company notice board on which there are company notices or confidential information. That post is now available for the public to see and could fall into the wrong hands. A clear expectation of staff will help to ensure employees’ work and personal boundaries are not so fused.
    • It will be important for companies to set out potential consequences of breaching the policy and for example, this may lead to disciplinary action.

    What is clear is that companies cannot rely on assuming that individuals understand where the lines are to be drawn.

    Clear policies and contractual terms can be used to protect companies, along with training and communication about what is acceptable and what is not.

    This content is correct at time of publication

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