The “digital water cooler”, where co-workers are able to have informal conversations instantaneously without the worry that their conversations will be saved, is an attractive proposition for many modern workplaces.

There are now plenty on online instant messaging providers who are now offering a mixture of additional features such as the ability to upload images, videos and even voice messages.

Generally speaking, these communications are not recorded on the organisation’s server or backed up.

The absence of a record of those conversations can cause employees to feel that they are able to speak without care and engage in inappropriate conduct which could be considered as harassment (sexual or otherwise), discrimination and/or bullying.

Some handy tips for employers who utilise online instant messaging services in the workplace are:

  • include protocols for office chat use in a workplace policy making it clear that inappropriate conduct and/or use can lead to disciplinary action;
  • remind employees that it is incorrect to assume that these chat platforms can be used without the risk of their messages being recorded/saved. For example, someone can take a screen shot of the messages, a photo of the message or even print them out in good old fashioned hard copy or upload them to another social media site such as Facebook.

This cautionary blog is a reminder to employers who provide/use instant messaging to consider regulating the usage of the system and also to employees not to assume that something said in an instant message will not be captured by someone else in another format – even if the system does not make a record itself.

As more communications in the workplace become of the online variety, employers’ policies will need to be agile enough to move with those times to outline acceptable workplace behaviour – in any format.


Information provided in this blog is not legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Workplace Law does not accept liability for any loss or damage arising from reliance on the content of this blog, or from links on this website to any external website. Where applicable, liability is limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation.