/ 4 September 2007

Don’t ban Facebook, British employers told

Employers should allow their workers to befriend, chat and ”poke” each other through online networking sites while at work, Britain’s largest labour federation says.

While accepting that employers are within their rights to block employees from using sites such as Facebook and MySpace, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) says a ban ”may be something of an overreaction”.

”Sensible employers, realising that their staff spend much of their waking hours in work and lead busy lives, should be trusted to spend a few minutes of their lunch break ‘poking’ their friends or making plans for outside work,” the TUC said in guidance published on its website.

Online social networking sites — where users sign up, make friends and post photos — have grown rapidly in Britain. Facebook recorded more than seven million unique British visitors in July, according to online measurement company comScore. MySpace and Bebo had more than 10-million visitors each.

In all, the top three social networking sites drew as many visitors as Google did, according to comScore.

The sites can be a headache for employers and educators — especially when users affiliated with a school or company post inflammatory, indiscreet or just plain embarrassing content. British organisations as diverse as the Ministry of Defence and Oxford University have issued guidance on using the sites within the past month.

The TUC says bosses need to give their employees guidance on what is acceptable online, rather than imposing a ban. It warns that, in the absence of any workplace rules, British Facebook users are ”3,5-million accidents waiting to happen”.

”It’s unreasonable for employers to try to stop their staff from having a life outside work, just because they can’t get their heads around the technology,” TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said in a statement. ”Better to invest a little time in working out sensible conduct guidelines, so that there don’t need to be any nasty surprises for staff or employers.”’

The TUC also warns employers against searching through the web profiles of job applicants, saying doing so could end up being discriminatory.

The TUC, an umbrella organisation for Britain’s trade unions, says it represents more than 6,5-million workers. — Sapa-AP