From Tik Tok to LinkedIn, social media platforms in the workplace can serve as a powerful tool for businesses to help boost brand awareness and visibility. However, despite the numerous advantages, the use of social media at work can pose various challenges and legal risks for HR and managers.

Risks of Social Media Use (and Misuse) at Work

  1. Defamation of business: When employees are openly expressing their dissatisfaction towards their employer or manager online, ranging from critiques of the employer to making far more severe remarks, that could be a problem. Unaddressed, these comments can tarnish a business’s image and have detrimental effects on an employer’s brand and overall reputation.
  2. Bullying and discrimination: In 2012, the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal (OHRT) made a significant discovery. They found that even online harassment between employees outside of working hours and away from the workplace could be considered harassment at work and employers can take action against the employee for such misconduct. For example, in 2013, the OHRT found that a worker’s Facebook comments and messages to colleagues calling her manager a racial slur constituted harassment under Ontario’s Human Rights Code.

    Employers and HR may also use social media in a way that discriminates against employees or potential hires. For example, you or your HR department use social media to a vet a candidate, but it’s discovered that the candidate is pregnant, so you don’t hire this person. This could be grounds for discrimination because you wouldn’t be able to ask about a candidate’s pregnancy during the interview stage.
  3. Breaches of confidentiality: Another obstacle that employers face with social media is when employees violate confidentiality by sharing sensitive information such as the company’s financial performance, downsizing plans or client data. This could do serious damage to employer’s brand and/or reputation and could even put a company’s intellectual property at risk.
  4. Time wasting: We all know that despite its benefits, social media can be distracting, time-consuming and addictive. So, without any guidelines, businesses may find workplace productivity impacted by employees wasting away paid work hours scrolling on social media.

6 Key Ingredients for an Effective Workplace Social Media Policy

The bottom line is that in this day and age it’s too risky to operate a business without a social media policy in place. So, here’s how to get a social media policy up and running:

Step 1: Lead by Example
When it comes to proper social media conduct, registered HR professionals are expected to lead by example. That’s why before partaking in any form of social media/electronic communication, HRPA members, firms and students are called to follow the HRPA’s Social Media Practice guidelines to protect the public, the profession and themselves from harm.

The document includes a few key questions HRPA members, firms and students should ask themselves before engaging on social media:

  1. Would I be comfortable with any colleague, client, member of the public, court, tribunal or the HRPA seeing this?
  2. How does this reflect on my professionalism and on the HR profession as a whole? Would I say or condone this in-person?
  3. If I saw another HR professional posting this, how would I feel or think others would feel?
  4. Do I have consent from the employer, colleague(s), client(s), and/or member of the public I am making a post or sharing an image of or about?
  5. Is what I’m sharing something that is confidential or private?
  6. Am I breaching any laws or regulations (ex. privacy, copyright, criminal)?
  7. Is this in compliance with HRPA’s Code of Ethics and Rules of Professional Conduct

Step 2: HR’s Role in the Social Media Policy
The social media policy shouldn’t just be created and launched solely by the marketing department. Because the policy impacts the entire workforce, everyone’s perspective should be captured in the social media policy.

There are also key stakeholders who will need to be involved in its development. HR is a key stakeholder that should be involved in the development and roll out of the social media policy. For example, HR often uses social media for recruiting. HR also has a role when it comes to ensuring the social media policy is consistent with the other workplace policies too.

Other departments such as your legal team, IT, sales and customer support team need to weigh in on employee social media guidelines. They may not be involved in creating the social media document, but they will be critical in getting your social media policy across the finish line.

Step 3: Engagement, Training and Agreement
Communicate, communicate, communicate. To ensure the effectiveness of a policy, it is crucial to effectively communicate it to your employees. Begin by determining the ideal location for your social media policy, making sure it is easily accessible to all. For instance, you can include the policy in the employee handbook or incorporate it into a publicly accessible landing page.

Next, distribute an internal announcement regarding the implementation of the policy, explaining the rationale behind its creation, and offering a designated contact person for employees to approach with any questions.

Finally, engage your HR professionals. HR professionals will ensure that employees receive training on the policy and sign an understanding and agreement of the document, including any disciplinary actions stated that may be taken if they are in breach of the policy. HR will also need to ensure the social media policy is included in new hire onboarding training materials.

Step 5: Monitor, Enforce and Review
So, your social media policy is officially live – now what? Well, from here on out, you’ll have to maintain it by ensuring the policy continues to be enforced fairly and consistently. It’s important to keep records of any actions take in reference to the policy. This can help to demonstrate the lawfulness of the response should an employee make a complaint about the action taken.

Your workplace’s social media policy should also be a working document and should be updated periodically to reflect new technologies and other fast-moving developments. Employers and HR should talk to their employees for feedback too. 

Does the policy confuse them? Are there any important aspects missing? Does it make them feel more comfortable discussing the company online? Anonymous surveys or one-on-one discussions can be conducted to gather this valuable information and determine if any amendments need to be made to the policy.

Step 6: Add the “Secret” Ingredient: HR
In order to safeguard businesses from potential harm caused by social media misuse, as an employer, you should establish and uphold a clear, effective, and universally understood social media policy.

When it comes to implementing such a policy in the workplace, employers and managers should work with registered HR professionals. Registered HR professionals are held to a higher standard and are dedicated to ensuring the safety of all workplaces. After all, improper social media use puts employee, company financial and reputational wellbeing at risk. But registered HR professionals are trained to manage this. They are also expected to stay informed about the guidance and standards issued by HRPA, including their practice guidelines on social media use at work.

Tailored specifically for HR professionals, our comprehensive guide delves into the legal and regulatory obligations surrounding social media, as well as the important questions that need to be addressed before implementing a social media policy in the workplace. To access HRPA’s practice guideline on social media in the workplace, visit: