People & Leadership

The impact of misconduct outside of the workplace

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Misconduct within your business can usually be dealt with quickly, efficiently, and with minimal fallout. With a robust disciplinary procedure, all of your employees should be aware of your employment rules, and what can happen if they breach them.

But should you end your disciplinary reach there? What about events that happen outside of work?

Can you discipline employees for conduct in their personal lives?

At a glance, you may think that what happens in your employees’ private lives should stay private, unless it affects their work. But what about your business reputation, if an employee steps way out of line? A quick LinkedIn search could connect that person to your company, regardless of where and when their actions took place.

Social media – a double-edged sword

One of the most common ways for an employee to fall foul of your behaviour expectations is through social media.

We’ve discussed the threat of social media before, and how your workforce conduct themselves online can all come down to you having a solid policy. An inappropriate or poorly worded tweet or Facebook update could bring your business into disrepute, damaging a hard-earned reputation.

Official social networking

Some businesses have a policy that allows their employees to tweet about their organisation, or from an official work account. This allows customers and employees to keep up to date with any news and announcements and can encourage interaction through conversations online.

However, if you choose to go down this route, it’s essential that those who use the accounts be fully versed on the company tone, use of language and generally what is allowed.

Making offers that the company can’t fulfil, getting involved in an online disagreement, or using inappropriate language, whether intended or not, can cause problems and negatively affect your business.

Blanket bans

Other organisations have banned the use of social media at work outright. This is sometimes the safest option, but can seem a bit extreme to some employees. Even if you ban social media at work, your business reputation could still be at risk from your employees, as anyone with access to a phone or tablet can send a tweet within seconds.

Set up a policy

You know your company better than anyone else, so it’s up to you to work out which method works best. Whatever you decide, a clear and concise social media policy is essential. We provide a template for consideration at the Sage website.

By including a social media policy within your existing company rules, you can state what your employees may and may not post about your business. For example, you could prohibit:

  • Anything sensitive or confidential about your business, its clients and partners.
  • Offensive, bullying or discriminatory posts about any fellow employees.
  • Anything that could harm your company’s reputation.

You can even choose to ban any mention of your business, its customers, clients and employees, at either work or elsewhere, if you wanted. Make sure it’s clear that this policy applies both in and out of work, and that you will resort to disciplinary measures for anyone found breaching this policy. A famous case involves a worker insulting her boss on Facebook, unaware that he could see her comments.

Your workforce continues to represent your business even out of working hours, and by explaining this while you communicate your policies, you can reduce the chances of anyone bringing it into disrepute.

So what’s the conclusion? Yes, in extreme cases, you can discipline people for their behaviour outside of work, but you need to make sure that your policies clearly explain the exact circumstances in which your discipline procedure will be invoked, and what the penalties can be.