Over half of all UK companies still don’t have a social media policy for employees, according to new research.

Some 52% of firms in a survey by law firm Laytons Solicitors admitted that they don’t have any guidelines for staff about the use of social media.

A further 61% fail to monitor what, if anything, employees say about their place of work and colleagues on social networks. Only one in ten of the 100 businesses Laytons interviewed said they were considering checking what is said online about their brand by their own staff.

Stephen Robinson, an employment law partner at Laytons, commented:

“Given the ever present access to sites like Facebook and Twitter made possible by smartphones, it’s a surprise that so many businesses appear to be out of touch with managing employees in this area.

“Simply blocking these websites in the workplace does not remove the risk. Employers should develop and communicate a clear and workable social media policy – including warning that any employees posting offensive comments on social networks may face disciplinary action.”

The research also found that 30% of employers had already taken a member of staff through a formal disciplinary procedure as a result of that person’s use of social media. At the same time, 43% of bosses said they would not know what to do if an employee posted something insulting about a colleague on Twitter or Facebook.

“We have already seen cases this year where Tribunals have upheld dismissals over remarks made in the social media space,” added Stephen.

“Social networks are public forums, irrespective of the user’s privacy settings. A user may have their privacy settings protected as ‘private’ – however there is no privacy where comments can be copied and posted to others. Employees should be warned not to post comments on a social media platform that they wouldn’t feel comfortable posting on an office notice board.”

One of the most significant cases – Teggart v. Teletech – saw an industrial Tribunal support a company which had dismissed a member of staff for making offensive comments about a female colleague on Facebook. The case involved workers at a telecommunications company and while it is not binding on other Tribunals, it is regarded as the clearest indication yet about how courts think in respect of social media and the workplace.

“It’s a very good steer that employers may be more confident in dismissing an employee for posting offensive comments about other employees on social media even if those comments are made away from the office, in their own time and on their own computer and network,” said Stephen.

The Laytons survey further found that, when recruiting, some 56% of employers do research on candidates through social media, with only 4% forewarning applicants about this. However 43% of businesses do not undertake any research via social media.

“Businesses still have some catching up to do. Today’s employees communicate and engage with organisations online more often than they do offline, and companies need HR policies and management that reflects this reality,” he added.

Workplace Law’s Managing Director, David Sharp, along with Julian Kirkpatrick and Oli Worth of Greenwoods Solicitors, recently considered some of the pitfalls of social media in a conference session at Th!nkFM 2012 titled: ‘Is all social media exposure good exposure?’.