44625581_lAs the festive season approaches, businesses will be looking forward to the fresh challenges of the New Year, reflecting on the successes of 2015 and celebrating with office Christmas parties. While most members of staff will consider the Christmas party the highlight of the social calendar, for many red-faced employees the evening could be one they would rather forget…

The office Christmas party is, first and foremost, an opportunity for employees to let their hair down and reward themselves for all of their hard work. However, even if your office Christmas party is off-site and outside of working hours, it is still legally considered an extension of the office environment; therefore boundaries of acceptable behaviour must be set.

This couldn’t be more true when it comes to social media, as the digital age has brought with it the certainty that you can wake up in the morning to find the previous evening’s antics well-documented online through selfies, group shots, tweets and status updates. Although social media is great way for colleagues to connect with each other, it can also serve as a platform for negative comments and hostility and can often be the source of contention among co-workers. This was demonstrated earlier this year when an Australian woman was found guilty of workplace bullying by the Fair Work Commission after unfriending a colleague on Facebook, with the tribunal commenting that the unfriending displayed a ‘lack of emotional maturity’ and was ‘indicative of unreasonable behaviour’.

With this in mind it’s clear that negativity, hostility or abuse on social media could, and should, be taken very seriously by employers. As the majority of businesses will already have social media rules in place to prevent cyber bullying at work, employees must adhere to the same rules while at work-related events.

For example, images of other people should never be posted without their consent and language used in posts should always be impartial, inoffensive and never regarding age, race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation or disability. It’s easy for employees to get carried away when drinks begin to flow and the festive excitement mounts, but alcohol-fuelled inappropriate comments and behaviour can be extremely damaging to co-workers, particularly when they are posted online.

No HR wants to be seen as the office scrooge, but it’s important to carefully consider social media policies as we enter the festive season. Bullying via social media can prove difficult for employers to control. However, having the correct measures in place and widening social media policies to cover outside of the workplace will ensure that everyone in your business has a merry Christmas.

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