Lessons from the Commonwealth Bank’s social media policy

Since my first post on Nett in January discussing HR and social media in the workplace, I’ve been fascinated with the Commonwealth Bank’s story which hit the news earlier this month.

By way of background, the bank introduced a social media policy late last year which required its employees to act in the Group’s best interests at all times when using social media, including outside of work hours.

While the bank put out its policy to protect its interest rather than invade the private lives of its employees, the Finance Sector Union (FSU) took offense at the broad nature of some of the statements in the policy.

And so when this social media policy hit the spotlight last week it was with headlines in The Australian like: “Bank threatens staff with a sack over social media comments,” coupled with demands by the FSU for the bank to suspend its policy. The FSU argued that the bank was breaching the Fair Work Act, impinging on employees’ workplace rights.

In particular, the FSU claimed that the social media policy did not reflect the contractual employment conditions and that it extended beyond conduct that could be regarded as involving damage to the bank’s reputation.

To the Commonwealth Bank’s credit, a number of revisions to the policy were turned around quickly and the use of mandatory language was softened. The requirement for employees to immediately notify their manager if they discover inappropriate or disparaging material posted by any person – has been replaced with a much nicer request that should they become aware of any such material, they could assist the bank by immediately notifying their manager.

Interestingly, the bank’s warning about the disciplinary consequences which led to that brazen headline in The Australian has also been amended. The policy now states that employees risk dismissal only in serious cases.

Of course, to have teeth, any social media policy must include consequences for violations. It’s critical that you spell out that violation of the policy can result in disciplinary action, including termination.
I think the key learning for us all is that social media policies are just like any other workplace policy. Just because you have a social media policy – doesn’t mean you can curtail workplace rights or impinge on the private lives of your employees.

As we all know, many customer issues and complaints are raised through social media channels. Issues can be resolved quickly if you monitor social media channels and respond promptly to those complaints in that environment. But asking your employees to be vigilant and to alert their managers whenever they see something positive or negative on the social media sites that they visit during their own time is one thing. Demanding it is quite another.

To help businesses tackle the issue of social media in the workplace, and the need to introduce robust but not all-consuming social media policies in the workplace, we’ll be holding a special webinar on Wednesday 16th March at 12:00pm AEDST.

We’ll answer common questions, show you how you can leverage social media in the workplace, and provide key tips on putting together a social media policy. Register now.

Adrienne Unkovich is the Managing Director of Workforce Guardian – an online employment relations subscription service for employers.

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