Although companies are on the whole still concerned about the way their staff use collaborative sites, the trend is towards allowing them to do so - within a clear framework, based on clear guidelines.

Social Networks: “More Sensible to Deal with them than Forbid them”

Interview with Anne Cousin, a partner at the French law firm Granrut Avocats and a specialist in information and communication technologies.

L'Atelier: There have been several studies recently into the relationship between social networks and productivity and they have concluded that social networking doesn’t damage the ability to get work done, quite the contrary in fact.  What do you think?

Anne Cousin:We shouldn’t kid ourselves. If we’re talking about people using social networks for their own purposes, productivity will clearly be affected when a company authorises its staff to go on to social networks during working hours. We see this particularly among 20-35 year olds, who’re really used to this communication tool and don’t draw the line between their private and working lives. However, we’re now at the point where it’s more sensible to deal with social networks than forbid them.

L'Atelier: But when it comes to using social networks for work purposes, is there, as many studies say, mistrust on the part of employees as regards data protection?

Anne Cousin:Quite the opposite. Every day I see that there is no obstacle at all to using social networks both during and outside working hours. The networks have improved hugely and are therefore much more attractive and by and large staff feel well-protected. However, they’re less clued-up when it comes to applying confidentiality parameters. So it’s essential that the company draw up an IT charter.

L'Atelier: So where are companies on this now?

Anne Cousin:Companies come to see me for advice for two reasons. First, to find out whether they’re entitled to forbid or limit staff access to social networks. The answer is of course, yes, they can indeed forbid access from a legal point of view, but I advise against this in order to avoid stoking frustration among their employees. Nevertheless it might be a good idea to set up timeslots for going on to these networks, lunchtimes for example. The second reason companies come to me for advice is to do with their liability if staff leak data or discredit a competitor. This of course has to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, but in general the company can be held liable.

L'Atelier: So what advice would you give to companies that are reluctant to make use of social networks?

Anne Cousin:From a legal point of view, they can’t take any action until something actually happens – the confidential data is divulged or the competitor slandered. The only way of controlling to some extent what can be published, is, as I said earlier, to draw up an IT charter. This allows the company, apart from other things, to describe and categorise contraventions and serious mistakes so that they can later be identified and sanctioned. There are basically two options for recourse: first, laying the person off, following a thorough enquiry that reveals clear evidence of improper conduct; and second, suing the person for bringing the company into disrepute. However, it shouldn’t be forgotten that taking someone to court remains a trying experience, entailing substantial costs and one to one and a half years of legal proceedings.