Social media cases in the Employment Tribunal have involved everything from employees posting derogatory comments about their employer, sharing offensive content, cyber bullying and everything in between.
There are high profile examples of individuals dropped or sacked due to social media posts, for example the cricketer suspended when old racist and sexist Tweets came to light.
Those in the public eye are subject to relentless abuse: Guardian research looked at Tweets about and to the England team during the group stage matches of the European tournament and identified over 2,000 abusive messages. Social media platforms are criticised about the time it takes to remove offensive content. In April, the football community and media boycotted social media to highlight the problem.
Here are some common questions we are asked about social media.
Do we need a social media policy?
Yes, even if as a business you are not active on social media, your employees will be. A key factor in many Tribunal cases is whether the employee was aware of the employer’s policies on what is or is not acceptable.
The policy should set out expectations including:
- Personal use: permitted during working hours?
- Prohibited use: even if this is stating the obvious in some cases, for example not disparaging the business, harassing staff on social media or posting offensive content.
- Are employees allowed to add business contacts made during the course of their work to their accounts? If not, say so.
- Guidelines for use: for example, do not use work email address, make clear that views are your own, not ours and so on.
- How breaches will be handled: disciplinary action up to and including dismissal.
We have heard that one of employees who is off sick has posted pictures on Facebook from Alton Towers, can we dismiss him?
As with any potential misconduct you need to investigate. If an employee is signed off with depression, they will have been advised to get out if they can, but with the flu a trip to a theme park would not be appropriate. When were the pictures taken, try not to jump to conclusions. If after this review, there is a case to answer then give the employee a chance to respond via a disciplinary process.
An employee is bullying another employee over Twitter outside of work, is this something we need to deal with?
Yes, even if it is outside of work, this will inevitably affect work and it is unlikely that the bullying will be taking place exclusively online, so interview the ‘victim’ when you become aware of it and again, follow up with the other employee. Commence disciplinary action if appropriate. Likewise, if you become aware of racist or other posts, they are in the public domain and you can investigate and take appropriate action, ideally backed up by a social media policy confirming that such posts are not acceptable.
If you have any questions please get in touch with Laura Claridge on 01689 887873 or email firstname.lastname@example.org