HR after Anton Casey: Is a formal social media policy necessary?

Singapore Business Review
Published: 14 Feb 14
By Ronald Lee, Managing Director, PrimeStaff Management Services

The latest person to incur the ire of the Singaporean community is Mr Anton Casey, who posted now-infamous remarks about MRT commuters being “poor people”. He swiftly lost his wealth management job and departed for Perth in a huff.

Mr Casey’s is not the first high-profile case in which a social media gaffe went viral to such detrimental effect. And it certainly won’t be the last.

While such offensive comments were clearly made in a personal capacity, the employers of such individuals are not exempt from the fallout.

With their names dragged through the mud, these employers have little choice but to take drastic action such as the decision to terminate the employment of said offender – or risk further damage to their reputation.

The question that human resource personnel should begin to ask themselves is how and to what extent can we prevent such a public relations fiasco from occurring due to an employee’s errant post on social media. Is it even possible?
A Double-edged Sword

The explosion of social media in recent years makes it a fairly new phenomenon and employers are still feeling their way around how best to deal with the omnipresence of social media in the workplace.

On one hand, some organisations may wish to have a blanket ban on the use of social media in the office but this may not be realistic nor recommended as it may result in resentful employees.

On the other, engaging with social media as an outlet to relax the mind – or to soak up information that interests an individual – can make it fertile ground for creativity to flourish.

Additionally, happy employees may speak positively about their employers on their social media accounts and this can do wonders for employer branding and even generate business and sales leads.
Drafting a Social Media Policy

Interestingly, many organisations still do not have a formal social media policy in place – despite some very public social networking blunders of individuals and the ensuing embarrassment suffered by their employers.

Developing and implementing a social media policy in your workplace should be approached with a delicate hand, as an employee’s social media use is his personal domain yet it may have ramifications on the company. Drafting an effective social media policy is thus a tricky labyrinth to navigate through, so here are some tips to get you started.

The first step is to determine if there are any laws governing the roles and actions of employees and employers in the socialsphere, especially since there is a public/private domain overlap to the social networking phenomenon. Do your research and consult a lawyer if necessary.

A legal review may seem expensive but regard it as insurance that would cost less than a potential lawsuit or other costly damage to the company’s reputation.

Next, the management needs to decide whether social media use is allowed during office hours. Here, it is important to be sensitive to the type of industry or the nature of the work of the different departments. For instance, the marketing department may need to use social media for market research, so an outright ban may have adverse effects.

The policy should also state the time limits (if any) for social media use in the workplace. You could designate a social or game room where employees can take a breather and officially log onto social media.

While time limits may be hard to track and enforce, it provides a point of reference in the event that an employee’s social media use gets excessive and corrective action needs to be taken.

The policy should then outline the expected behaviour of the employees and the type of comments that are acceptable or not acceptable online – be it in their professional or personal capacities. Because the reality is that even if something is posted in a personal capacity, a formal association between the employee and the company does exist.

Thus, it should be made clear that any confidential or potentially sensitive information about a company such as the development of new products, trade secrets and internal policies are not allowed to be shared on social media – even in a personal capacity.

You should define key terms like “trade secret” as well as cite specific examples to provide a clearer distinction on what can be posted and what is forbidden.

For example, your employee may be elated about clinching a big business deal and share this good news on his social media account before an unofficial announcement is made. It may have been a celebratory post with no malice involved but could this be considered a breach of confidence?

Comments portraying the company in a negative light should also be disallowed.

To further safeguard the company’s reputation, it may be wise for the policy to state that the company has the right to take disciplinary or even legal action against the employee should they breach the policy and damage the reputation of the company.

Once the policy is in place, make time to review it at regular intervals. Listen to feedback from your employees on the effectiveness and relevance of the policy and be flexible and willing to update it when necessary.

At the end of the day, social media can be a double-edged sword, so it is best to err on the side of caution by managing it properly. Always remember: Once someone clicks ‘tweet’ or ‘post’, there is no undo button to reverse the consequences.

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