Employment matters: Social media fails

BRIDGET SMITH
Last updated 08:22 26/05/2014
Bridget Smith
Supplied
FAIL: The Employment Court takes a dim view of workers pleading social media ignorance, lawyer Bridget Smith says.

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Are the internet and social media good or bad for business?

My brother is fond of the saying "you can't stop progress" and I know I used that turn of phrase in last week's column; but never is it more relevant than in relation to the internet and social media.

I'm of a generation that knows life before the internet and social media, but consider (if you haven't already) that the current generation and future generations will never know a life without www, .com, .co.nz, Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn and the various other social media platforms that no doubt exist (for those more technologically savvy than me).  For some, social media and the internet is their life!

With that in mind, I doubt there are many people who would argue that the development of the internet and social media have had a significant impact on the way we do business. In the retail sector the impact is online shopping. In the hospitality sector, the increasing ability of people to comment and review service and food, can impact on a restaurant or cafe's reputation. And in an industry where margins are slim, this can impact on profits...

But the service sector isn't unaffected either. The growth of the internet and social media have caused many businesses to consider whether they need a specific employee to manage their online presence, to introduce specific internet and social media usage policies, and to ask themselves whether an employee's use of social media in his/her own time is outside of the employee's employment?

A classic recent example of the different ways of dealing with an employee's social media use is the different reactions of South Pacific Pictures and the New Zealand Warriors, to the "sex scandal" involving their respective employees Teuila Blakely and Konrad Hurrell.

South Pacific Pictures came out and publicly supported Teuila, whereas The Warriors fined Konrad $5,000 and required him to undertake training on the appropriate use of social media. This may have been due to different policies, or maybe it was just a fundamental difference in approach.

While most employers won't have to consider employee "sex scandals", the question of what you can do on your own time, and what can be said to impact on your employment, is a relevant one.

The Employment Court has stated in recent determinations that employees can no longer rely on the defence they didn't know information on Facebook was public or they didn't understand the risks of an email being forwarded - because those risks are well known to everyone in this technology savvy generation.

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But if you're sitting at home in the comfort of your lounge, is that your own time?  If you're not a high profile celebrity, should you be entitled to do and say what you want on social media?

Where do you draw the line? (or virtual line!)

Bridget Smith is a member of the Auckland District Law Society and a partner with Swarbrick Beck Mackinnon. She writes this column and runs regular live chats on employment issues on Stuff.

- Stuff

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