When social media policies gag abused employees

Image: unsplash.com

In recent years, as the use of social media has skyrocketed, employers globally have developed social media policies that all employees are required to sign. These policies detail how employees may/may not interact on social media and what they can and cannot say about an organisation.

At their core, social media policies are supposed to be a guideline to ensure that employees do not “bring the organisation into disrepute”, i.e. Don’t embarrass them in any way. In the context of racism, gender-based insensitivities, misogyny, homophobia, these policies make sense. Nobody should want to have any association with people who are harmful to others.

But what happens when an employee turns to social media because they have no other outlet for the abuse they endure in the workplace?

Just from observing how inundated the CCMA is with labour-related matters, it is clear that there is a gaping issue between employers and employees. In some cases, employees are the ones in the wrong and have infringed upon their employment contract in some way. Sometimes, it’s the employer who has infringed upon the employee’s rights. But there’s a lot that goes on within the organisation before a matter makes it to the CCMA.

Many of us have heard stories about the various types of abuse and bullying that people endure in the workplace. Many people have experienced that abuse and bullying first-hand. The rule of thumb is to follow and exhaust all internal processes for grievances before the matter can be referred to an external party.

Depending on the company’s policies, these internal processes may include:

  • Numerous one-on-ones with your line manager to “try to resolve the conflict privately”.
  • Escalating the matter to HR and having meetings where HR is an “impartial mediator”.
  • Launching a formal process such as a grievance, which is followed by a grievance hearing chaired by a senior “impartial” manager/executive in the organisation.
  • If the employee is unhappy with the process/outcome, they may escalate the matter to more senior executives, including the CEO.

But what happens when an employee who is mistreated or discriminated against has exhausted every level of the internal process and is still not getting a satisfactory resolution to their matter? In many cases, employees do not have the means to seek legal representation and find themselves desperate for mental and emotional support. So they turn to the community they’ve built around them on social media. They share their pain and the experiences they have endured. They share how their livelihoods have been threatened by a toxic boss who is supported by a toxic corporate culture. But no matter how truthful their posts are, they are immediately faced with the risk of being fired for bringing the organisation into disrepute and/or sued for “defamation”.

Why? Maintaining an image, no matter how inaccurate that image may be, is far more important to organisations than transforming the culture of the organisation and actually protecting employees. In many cases, the employees are sacrificed in favour of the abusers.

Social media policies have become another asset for organisations where profit trumps humanity and until we begin truly interrogating organisational policies and culture, the working class will continue to be the sacrifice.

Author avatar
Sihle Bolani

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