Can Businesses Dismiss an Employee for Something They Post On Social Media?

    We live in a day and age where social media plays a prevalent role in most people’s day to day lives with it being the first thing they look at when they wake up in the morning and the last thing they check before going to bed at night.

    There are currently 3.5 billion users on social media worldwide (that’s 46% of the population) with the average person spending 3 hours a day on social media networks.

    Although it has fast become a staple in society, there are, surprisingly, a growing number of cases and dismissals due to inappropriate social media posts by workers.

    An inappropriate post could entail:

    The argument from an employee’s perspective would be that their activity on social media, if it’s outside of working hours, is their personal business and unrelated to work so they shouldn’t be punished for it.

    However, employment tribunals have found that, in many cases, an employee was disciplined or dismissed fairly based on their actions on social media as rules and laws surrounding bullying, harassment and discrimination are still in existence. Therefore, any colleague that is targeted or if the company’s reputation is brought into disrepute, strong action can be justified.

    This demonstrates that employers and businesses can have a say over what their staff do on social media, to an extent, but there are some grey areas which is why the key is to make your stance clear to employees.

    The best way for employers to set a clear standard from day one is to create a social media policy that will govern what is and is not acceptable behaviour and when action can be taken against an employee.

    A good and clear social media policy should protect you against security risks and legal issues, empower your staff and protect your brand. It should set guidelines about what your employees can and cannot post on social media, who can speak for your company on social media, laws and confidentiality and what the punishment may be for breaking any of these rules.

    You should also use clear examples or definitions of what is considered ‘inappropriate’ or ‘offensive’ so that there is no miscommunication or room for argument.

    Once created, the policy must be communicated to your employees so that they are aware of your guidelines and expectations, as well as the potential repercussions should they break the rules.

    If you need support from a HR expert when creating a social media policy, our consultants can provide an extensive template or write a bespoke policy on your behalf.

    What is fair dismissal in the case of social media activity?

    The most justified reason for disciplining or dismissing an employee when it comes to something they have posted online, is when it could damage the company’s reputation or targeting colleagues.

    It’s one thing when an employee posts something wildly offensive on their Twitter account but there is no way to connect the user to your company; it’s a whole different ball game when the account is clearly linked to the business because there is mention of the being employed by your company on their profile.

    In any of the cases referred to earlier, and when the social media profile clearly links the user to your company, the employee is putting the company reputation at risk and should face the appropriate repercussions.

    The disciplinary procedure that is outlined in your company handbook, should then be followed to ensure that you are not putting yourself at risk of an unfair dismissal claim.  However, as part of the investigation, employers would be advised to obtain a copy of any posts that are unsavoury in order to support action being taken.

    What role does privacy play in monitoring employee activity on social media?

    The biggest area of contention between employees and employers when it comes to discipline or dismissal over social media posts is the employees’ right to privacy when it comes to what they do outside of work.

    In most cases, employers are only made aware of inappropriate behaviour on social media as a result of whistleblowing either directly from another member of staff or due to the fact that the post is on a public forum and has been shared amongst other users or through complaints received from the general public.

    When this is the circumstance in which the employer takes disciplinary action, there is no question that privacy agreements have not been broken.

    But can an employer take action against an employee when they have been snooping through their employees’ profiles without permission?

    In most cases, yes.
    Social media is a public forum so many of the usual privacy agreements and standards are null and void when it comes to these networks.

    However, there are a lot of privacy settings now available which can allow users to block access to their profiles from people they don’t give explicit permission too.

    Therefore, when users are not putting these protective measures in place, they are putting themselves at risk and don’t have much of a leg to stand on when it comes to their right to privacy.

    The only situation where it would be deemed questionable is when the access to the social media account has been gained through unsavoury means such as hacking into an account that has privacy settings put in place.

    Furthermore, can company’s put a policy in place that allows them to have access to their employees’ profiles?

    This would mean that their employees cannot block access to their social media profiles.
    Unless the account is a business one, then an employer will not have this right.

    Although you can set clear guidelines with a thorough policy and you can discipline or dismiss those employees who break this code of conduct, there is a limit to how much control you have over your employees’ social media accounts and that includes their right to keep their profile private.

    Managing social media in the workplace can be challenging which is why it’s important to seek the advice and support of a professional team of HR experts.
    We can be that support network to aid in writing up social media policies or in the disciplinary procedure should you find yourself having to take that route with an employee based on social media activity.
    Call us today on 0845 2626 260 to find out more information about this service.

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