The use of WhatsApp has exploded in recent years. It is a free, multi-platform messaging app that enables users to make video and voice calls and send text messages, all with just a Wi-Fi connection. The service is cheaper than texting and has gained traction because it encrypts messages between senders and recipients, so it is perceived to be a more secure form of communication. However, that does not mean that the use of WhatsApp is completely safe, particularly in a professional or work context.
The body which regulates solicitors has recently rebuked a solicitor who posted offensive messages on a WhatsApp group. Somewhat remarkably, the group contained about 100 members so it was perhaps a reasonable assumption that offensive messages may become known to a wider audience.
Anyone using WhatsApp in a work context should remember that the messages can form part of the records of the business. Employees might not realise that their messages could result in legal claims against their employer, for example for discrimination or whistleblowing. On an individual level, inappropriate use of WhatsApp may result in disciplinary action against the employee.
The pandemic and the increase in working from home has hastened the use of WhatsApp and similar messaging services.
Employers should ensure that their policies are reviewed and up to date. This could include policies relating to acceptable internet use, use of employee/employer devices, confidentiality and GDPR. IT policies should be reviewed to consider the extent of the permitted use of private messaging services, particularly if the employer provides the device to the employee.
The employer faces different challenges if employees are permitted to use their own devices not least in relation to confidentiality and expectations of privacy. If an employer has no policy on these issues and has not notified staff that messages and communications will be accessed, the employer will have difficulty in demonstrating compliance with GDPR.
To discuss this or any other employment related matter, contact us.