Renfrewshire Council

Social media: employee responsibilities

Employee responsibilities when using social media, including how the council may address unacceptable behaviour.

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The council recognises that social media has become part of everyday life for employees and can be used positively. All council employees should be aware of their conduct and responsibilities when communicating online and using social media sites.

This guidance is for Renfrewshire Council employees, contractors, and volunteers. It highlights examples of safe social media use. It also explains how the council may address unacceptable social media use.

For guidance on using social media on behalf of your service, see our social media guidelines for corporate use.


What is social media?

Social media includes social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn; photo-sharing sites such as Instagram and Pinterest; and video-sharing sites such as YouTube and TikTok.

It also includes other sites and apps where users contribute content, such as Digg and Yelp, as well as messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.


Employee responsibilities at work

If you have a personal profile on a social media website, you should be aware of your conduct and behaviour on these sites as well as your responsibilities to the council. Posted material can, when matched with an identity or photograph, reflect not only on the individual, but also on the individual's employer, clients, colleagues, and profession.

Employees are permitted to access social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter on the council network for business purposes and for personal use outwith the employees' normal working hours, in accordance with the council's ICT acceptable use policy and these guidelines.

However, it's important to remember that all employees are responsible for any information they make available online in a work or personal capacity—whether this was posted during work hours, breaks, or when not at work.

Employees who are granted access to social media sites for work purposes should ensure they have read and fully understand the council's ICT acceptable use policy and, where appropriate, abide by any professional code of conduct that applies to their role.

See our guide for corporate use to learn more about using social media for your council service.

Here are some important things to consider before using social media:

  • Don't send or receive information or images online about the council, its services, facilities, employees, customers, or third parties, which may be considered confidential, offensive, defamatory, discriminatory, harassing, illegal, embarrassing, threatening, intimidating or which may incite hatred (e.g., sectarianism). The extent to which such information or images shall be regarded as meeting any of the above descriptions shall be judged in terms of the likelihood of the employee's comments causing harm or distress, the scale of any harm, and the implications of such harm, whether physical, psychological, financial, reputational, or commercial.
  • Don't participate or offer opinions online regarding current or rumoured legal/commercial activities of the council (e.g., school closures).
  • Don't publicise the identity of or post any information which may help identify individual cases or spread misinformation about Covid-19.
  • Don't send, receive, or post images/photos of clients, service users, or employees in the workplace without explicit consent.
  • Don't discuss work-related issues and complaints in a manner which could cause distress to individuals or damage their own reputation or that of their employer. Address any legitimate concerns through the appropriate council policies.

When setting up a social media account, employees must not:

  • use their council email address to register on a social network unless they are setting up the account for business purposes
  • use a personal email address to set up a social media account for business use.

Employees using social media for work purposes, particularly those with any form of enforcement or investigatory role, must be aware of what covert surveillance is. Covert surveillance is monitoring someone who is unaware they are being monitored to obtain information, usually for a specific investigation, even when this is easy to find or 'open source'.

Covert surveillance must usually be authorised by an authorising officer. Any employee who thinks that they could be using social media for covert surveillance must first check with their line manager or the authorising officer for their service. You can obtain a list of authorising officers from the managing solicitor (DPO).

There is a difference between making use of publicly available information found on the internet or social media when making general observations and targeting a specific individual's social media pages, especially if this occurs more than once. It is important to understand the privacy settings of the social networking sites you are using to collect information, as not all social networking sites work in the same way.

Employees using social media for work purposes should not 'friend' someone to get access to their activities or profile without them knowing who they are and what they are doing, before checking with their line manager or authorising officer. Employees must never set up a false identity for a covert purpose without first obtaining an authorisation.

When employees bring their own personal mobile devices into the workplace, they must limit their use of these devices in relation to personal use of social media to official breaks, such as lunch breaks and outwith working hours. Working hours means the period that the individual spends at paid work (this is highlighted in the individual employee's contract of employment).

The council will investigate any incidents of unacceptable or inappropriate use of social media, which could result in disciplinary action, including dismissal.

If employees intend to post pictures or videos to council accounts, they must ensure that they or the photographer who took the images have obtained permission from the people in the photographs (e.g., children, service users, etc.) before posting them online. If the employee or service did not take or pay for the photograph to be taken, they must also obtain permission from the person who took the photograph before posting the image on their social media account.


Employee responsibilities when not at work

All employees are responsible for any information they make available online whether this is posted during work hours, breaks, or when they are not at work. The council considers employees to be responsible and accountable for information contained on their social networking accounts, podcasts, or blogs. Employees need to be aware of what is posted/uploaded to sites they control and that they are expected to manage any inappropriate material responsibly and appropriately. If an employee encounters any inappropriate material outwith their control, it is expected that this is also managed appropriately.

Employees who use their personal social media accounts to promote work events, initiatives, and campaigns should include a line in their profiles stating the opinions expressed on the account are their own and do not reflect the council's views (especially on Twitter).


Unacceptable use of social media

Examples of unacceptable and inappropriate online activity and use of social media include:

  • offensive or defamatory comments in relation to any employee, including management, colleagues, or service users, of the council, service user, customer, or elected member
  • comments that may be considered discriminatory, harassment, bullying, or victimisation
  • language or comments used in a discriminatory or defamatory way
  • using photographs or video footage of an employee or service user of the council without their permission
  • disclosure of personal, sensitive, or confidential information gained during your employment without authorisation (unauthorised disclosure could constitute misconduct/gross misconduct in accordance with the council's disciplinary procedures)
  • posting comments, content, media, or information that could bring the council into disrepute
  • indecent, violent, or offensive behaviour while working on behalf of the council, including the viewing, downloading, and/or circulation of offensive or sexually explicit material
  • harassment, bullying, discrimination, intimidation, or victimisation against any individual(s) while working on behalf of the council or which can be connected to work by bringing the name of the council into disrepute
  • behaviour during working hours and outwith hours which brings the name of the council into disrepute.

You should address legitimate concerns about the council or employees through the appropriate HR policies and procedures, such as the grievance procedures or the respect at work policy. If investigators find that use of social media has been unacceptable, this may lead to disciplinary action, including dismissal.

Inappropriate online behaviour, such as cyberbullying, can result in criminal action or, in some instances, civil action brought by others. Employees should also be aware that in circumstances where their behaviour is unlawful (i.e., a hate crime incident, such as sectarianism, racism, or homophobia), the council will report this to the police.


Further information

Ask your line manager or HR and Organisational Development for further information on this guidance.

For additional guidance on covert surveillance, see the council's surveillance policy and guidelines or the managing solicitor (DPO).

For guidance on using social media on behalf of your service, see our social media guidelines for corporate use.