Social media – the dilemma for employers!
The impact of social media is blurring the distinction between work and personal life, with most people always connected whether at home or at work.
Employers may be concerned that some employees use company computers and smart phones for sending emails to friends, accessing social network sites, or even shopping online.
Monitoring employees’ use of social media might seem reasonable but it may infringe an individual’s right to privacy. Employees have a legitimate expectation of personal privacy which is not overridden by the fact that the phone, laptop, or tablet may be provided by the employer.
However, the right to privacy may be balanced with the interests of the employer:
- To prevent abuse of social networking sites, e-mail or text;
- To protect their business and reputation;
- To prevent cases of cyber bullying in the workplace.
The Data Protection Acts 1988 and 2003 set out the rights and entitlements of citizens regarding data privacy, however, the issue of monitoring the use of electronic communications in the workplace is not specifically covered by the legislation.
The Data Protection Commissioner accepts that employers have a right to protect their legitimate interest by monitoring the use of the internet, e-mail and social networks at work. In principle there is nothing stopping an employer specifying that the electronic communication systems are not for personal use, however in practice most employers allow a limited amount of personal use.
The Data Protection Commissioner offers the following advice to employers:
‘the legitimate interest of the employer’ – the employer is entitled to process personal data that is necessary for the normal development of the employment relationship and the operation of the business. However, these interests cannot not take precedence over the principles of data protection, including the requirement for transparency, fair and lawful processing of data.
‘Monitoring e-mail, internet usage, surveillance by camera’– staff must be informed of the existence of monitoring and surveillance devices and the purpose for which the data is collected. Personal data collected in the course of monitoring must be relevant; must not be excessive and should not be retained for any longer than necessary.
If CCTV cameras are in use and public access is allowed, a notice to that effect must be displayed. Only in exceptional circumstances, for example a criminal investigation, should covert surveillance be used and always in consultation with the Gardai.
Employees have the right to access their personal data under section 4 of the Data Protection Act.
Employers must provide employees with a readily accessible, clear and accurate statement of policy on the use of electronic communications. The policy should describe the extent to which the employees can use e-mail and the internet or smartphones for personal communications at work.
I can advise you on preparing your policy statement and ensure that you balance the often competing rights of employer and employee.