What to do when employees leave but their online profile says otherwise

digital marketing

By Shane Koelmeyer

We all know social media has power for both good and bad, especially for businesses and their employees. The actions of employees online can be useful and bring goodwill to a business, but we live in the age of the all powerful online review and an employee’s comments can expose a business to serious reputational damage.

A number of Fair Work Commission decisions over the past few years have given authority for the position that individuals who identify themselves (or are identifiable) as employees online risk their employment if they post or comment in a way that injures their employer or damages the employment relationship.

However, what should employers do when employees leave the business and fail to update their online profiles to reflect the change?

Here are our top tips for ensuring that exiting employees don’t damage your business’ reputation because they failed to update their employment status online:

1. Act early

Develop a social media policy about use and account creation, and include the expectation that departing employees will update their online profiles to reflect their exit from the business with a strict timeframe (for example, by close of business on their last day of employment).

Educate all employees on the policy so they understand what is expected, and regularly review the policy and training content.

Employers might also consider including a clause in employment contracts requiring employees to change their accounts upon the termination of employment. Employees are required to return all property of the business on their departure and their online connection with the business should be treated similarly.

2. Remind employees on their way out

Remind exiting employees to change their accounts and leave any online work groups where other employees might be sharing information about the business. A reminder never hurts and could be all it takes to protect confidential information.

Also be sure to review the social media accounts employees use while working for the business. Employees may make accounts under their own names but use those accounts for work purposes like promoting the business or engaging with clients and customers. Accounts used for business purposes may be the property of the business and employees should leave those accounts behind (with passwords and login details) when they go, if you are unsure about the ownership of those accounts we encourage you to seek legal advice.

3. Have you left yet?

Employers often become concerned when they become aware that a former employee has not changed their online status after they have left. In this circumstance, employers should initially write to the person and ask them to change their account to reflect their new circumstances.

If the employee refuses, employers can usually report them directly to the social media platform.

When a person signs up and creates an account on social media, they are agreeing to the terms of use (sometimes also called a user agreement). Most social media sites require that users keep their profile information current and accurate. For example, LinkedIn’s user agreement says:

8.2. Don’ts. You agree that you will not:

  • Misrepresent your current or previous positions and qualifications;
  • Misrepresent your affiliations with a person or entity, past or present;

If a former employee is misrepresenting him/herself as a current employee, then they may be in violation of the social media site’s terms of use and this misuse can be reported. Reporting can result in the suspension of the person’s account.

If an employer feels that serious damage has been done to the business because a former employee misrepresented themselves as a current employee there may be recourse through the courts, for example, to seek an injunction to stop the offending behaviour or recover damages. In this case, employers should seek legal advice.

The best tip we can give is to be pro-active and communicate your expectations clearly. If something is happening that concerns you act early, and report if required. Don’t wait until something unhelpful happens – your online reputation is a valuable business asset and worth proactively protecting.

Shane Koelmeyer is a director of specialist law firm Workplace Law, where this article was first published

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