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Social media policies prevent abuse of HR technology

Shelley Wilson
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Companies looking to embrace the benefits of modern HR technology - including computers, smart phones and tablets - should implement employee management policies that clearly regulate what employees may and may not do with the work tools provided to them. Given the potential for abuse and confusion, the increasing use of HR technology has necessitated that employers implement policies which clearly regulate behaviour.

No privacy for employees

One of the ways of ensuring that work tools are only used for work-related purposes is to include a clause in employees' contracts informing them that they should not have an expectation of privacy with regards to their use of employer-provided technological work tools, and that the employer has the right to monitor their use of these, including accessing communications.

In the knowledge that their employer may, at any time, monitor their usage of work tools and intercept electronic communications, employees may be less likely to conduct personal activities during working hours.

Although section 2 of the Regulation of Interception of Communication Related Information Act of 2002 provides that an employer may not intentionally intercept an employee's e-mail, exceptions to the general prohibition are contained in sections 5 and 6 of the act.

Section 5 is the most important as it allows the interception of communication with the consent of the party to that communication.

For this reason, it is important that employers ensure that their contracts of employment or Internet and e-mail policy contain provisions that inform employees that they should not have an expectation of privacy in relation to their use of employer-provided resources, and that the employer has the necessary consent to intercept employees' communications when using the employer's work tools.

Social media will be regulated during work hours

Similarly, the most effective way to manage employees' use of social media websites like Facebook and Twitter would be in terms of a social media policy that regulates the use of social media sites during working hours, irrespective of whether or not they are using the company's property to gain access to these platforms.

One of the most commonly used methods of managing employees' use of social media platforms during working hours is to block access to these platforms when using the company's equipment.

Outside of working hours, the more important question is in relation to the content that is posted by employees.

If the content of statements made is defamatory, or has the potential to bring the employer's name into disrepute, the employer can take disciplinary action against the employee. Ultimately, the employer would have to make an assessment on if the content transgresses its code of conduct and warrants disciplinary action.


Shelley Wilson Shelley Wilson has been a director of Bowman Gilfillan since 2001 and has practised exclusively in employment law since 1998. She also provides training to clients on various employment-law issues and serves on the Tokiso arbitration panel.

Shelley specialises in all aspects of South African employment law and her clients include multinational companies, South African corporate employers, and executive and senior employees. She assists clients with a broad range of employment issues, including advising on the employment issues that arise in mergers and acquisitions and other corporate restructurings and transactions, advising on and drafting local employment contracts and cross-border employment contracts, policies and procedures, consulting agreements and restraints of trade, and advising on discrimination, sexual harassment, dismissals, major corporate retrenchments, unfair labour practices, employment equity, collective disputes and strikes.

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