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Dealing with social media incidents

MOST businesses, including their owners and employees, use some form of social media within the workplace.

On the one hand, businesses use LinkedIn and Twitter to advertise and communicate to customers.

On the other, employees continuously talk to each other (and the wider world) through Facebook and Twitter.

Social media has provided a forum for anyone to comment on anything and everything, including their workplace, their employer and their colleagues.

The fact that most people can work outside the confines of the office can blur the line as to what is and isn’t work time. Therefore businesses now find themselves faced with issues which can lead to serious disputes if not carefully and correctly handled.

How do you treat staff using social media to make derogatory comments about work or colleagues, especially when the comments are made outside of office hours or away from work?

From a legal perspective, as yet there aren’t many cases on social media-related dismissals. Therefore there isn’t a definitive guide for businesses to help them to take the right and fair course of action.

For example, an employee was fairly dismissed for describing on Facebook a senior colleague (who he hadn’t actually met) to be “apparently a ****”.

The employee’s friends on Facebook would have been aware who the employee was talking about. Therefore who may see comments made on social media is important.

Posting a comment on Facebook may be more damaging than writing the same comments on a large piece of paper and displaying it for all to see in the staff kitchen.

Conversely, an employee sacked for posting that “his place of work is beyond a ***ing joke” was deemed be unfairly dismissed because the employment relationship wasn’t completely undermined as a result. Nonetheless, as he was found to have contributed to his dismissal, his compensation was reduced by half.

Employers need to know how an employment tribunal decides upon the fairness of a dismissal. Tribunals look at whether the employment relationship is capable of being undermined by the comments made, the effects on the employer’s reputation, who may have seen the comments and the amount and frequency of such comments.

Of course, posting comments on Facebook is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to potential issues faced by employers.

Is it against privacy laws to monitor emails?

Should employers allow employees to store business contacts on social media such as LinkedIn?

A simple starting point is to ensure your business has a policy or guide on using social media that staff have seen, have understood and ideally have been trained on.

Ward Hadaway can help on drafting and implementing such policies to help deal with the social media dimension.

* This article first appeared in the Ward Hadaway Greater Manchester Fastest 50 2016 supplement. To read the supplement in full, please click here.