Pandemic-driven rise of WhatsApp and how to prevent its  misuse by employees

Pandemic-driven rise of WhatsApp and how to prevent its misuse by employees


  • Date: Wednesday 27th April 2022

The rise of the pandemic changed the way employers communicated with their teams. There was a greater need to communicate urgent messages without delay rather than using traditional methods such as an all-employee email sent to work email addresses. Many employers turned to WhatsApp as an easily accessible platform for such instant messages. The platform also enabled employees to keep in touch when they had worked in isolation and at home enabling a sense of connectedness between colleagues.

However, recent media coverage has highlighted the downside of the platform with examples of how employee messages on WhatsApp have been offensive, discriminatory and highly damaging to the reputation of organisations.

Using the platform for jokes and banter or sharing discriminatory images can lead to grievances and allegations of bullying and harassment. In certain instances, an employer could be held liable at tribunal for the discriminatory actions of their employees, leading to both reputational and financial damage.

What can employers do to minimise the risk of inappropriate usage?

Policies:

Employers need to have policies in place that will cover the use of messaging platforms. Policies should include social media, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and equality, bullying and harassment policies. However, it is not enough to just have a policy. Employers need to have a record that employees have received and read the policy.

Training:

Employers should also train employees on these policies and keep a record of this. A way to embed policy awareness is to deliver toolbox talks on each policy and repeat this on an annual basis.

Content:

Policies and training should outline what the company’s approach is to the use of WhatsApp for business purposes, communicating with colleagues and personal communications, as well as stating what will happen when the employee leaves employment.

Policies should set out expectations for communications between colleagues and what is deemed inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour. Throughout, there needs to be awareness that policy breaches may result in disciplinary action.

Disclosing messages:

Employers can also help shape their employees’ approach to the use of WhatsApp by simply reminding them that the messages they might believe are part of a private and encrypted conversation will in fact be disclosable if an employee claim reaches a tribunal. As part of awareness training, remind employees how their “private” WhatsApp conversations may one day be read out in court!

Source: Gavin Parrott


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