Union wades into social networking row

Oh what's to be done about workplace Facebooking?

Oh what's to be done about workplace Facebooking?

Companies must introduce policies on the use of social networking sites at work to clear up any confusion about what staff are allowed to post online, a UK trade union is warning.

The TUC said not enough companies are clear about what they expect from staff in terms of their personal conduct when using social networking sites. A number of employers have even disciplined staff for their online conduct, according to the union, and more cases are likely to follow unless some sensible precautions are taken.

Half of businesses had already restricted the use of Facebook, for example, because of fears staff are wasting company time as well as putting confidential details at risk of online exposure.

The TUC said employers are entitled to ban the use of social networking sites entirely but that this could be an over-reaction as workers should be entitled to spend a few minutes at lunchtime organising their social lives - as they would on the phone or in person.

But the union said it is clearly not acceptable for someone to spend "hours a day on social networking sites when they should be getting on with their work", adding that policies drawn up with the involvement of staff can set out what is permitted.

It also warned employers shouldn't be tempted to use social networking profiles for recruitment purposes as this could provide unfair advantages or disadvantages to certain candidates.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said simply cracking down on the use of new web tools such as Facebook is not a sensible solution to a problem that is only going to get bigger.

He said in a statement: "It's unreasonable for employers to try to stop their staff from having a life outside work, just because they can't get their heads around the technology. Better to invest a little time in working out sensible conduct guidelines, so that there doesn't need to be any nasty surprises for staff or employers."