Once again employees being dismissed for posting derogatory comments on Facebook is back in the headlines. The reality is, despite what many employees believe, posts on Facebook and Twitter cannot properly be considered private, and misuse of Facebook by employees can have huge implications!
In the recent case of British Waterways Board v Smith, Mr Smith was summarily dismissed for gross misconduct for posting derogatory comments about his employer on Facebook and also for their belief that he had consumed alcohol whilst on standby a couple of years earlier. British Waterways (the employer) challenged the decision of the Employment Tribunal that had found that they had unfairly dismissed Mr Smith (the employee). The Tribunal believed that the employer had failed to consider the employee’s mitigation. The EAT overturned the Tribunal’s decision and held that the dismissal was in fact fair and in its view, the employer had considered the employees mitigating circumstances and had policies in place to deal with misuse of social media.
This case re-emphasises the importance of employers following a proper disciplinary procedure when dealing with misuse of social, considering an employee’s mitigating circumstances, and having policies and procedures in place to handle social media.
So how does an employer protect itself from social media abuse by its employees? Here are a few tips:
- Have in place a social policy that sets out acceptable use of social media. This should include reference to permitted usage at work, misuse outside of working hours and unacceptable practices (such as causing reputational damage to business, disclosing confidential information or harassing fellow staff).
- Update your disciplinary and grievance procedures, discrimination, and bullying and harassment policies to include social media abuse.
- Ensure that a fair disciplinary procedure is always followed when dealing with allegations of misuse of social media. Consider carefully the contents, the context and the impact of the posts or tweets before determining the appropriate outcome.
- Be consistent with how you handle, manage and discipline ‘abuse’ of social media both during and outside working hours.
- Provide positive guidance on what employees can do with social media within the working day and how they can positively represent your business.
Love it or hate it, social media is here to stay. Whilst social media is easy to fear, the ones that embrace and give clear positive guidance on usage by employees are the ones that reap its rewards!
If you need guidance on managing social media abuse within your business or assistance updating your policies to ensure that you have the appropriate cover for social media, please contact us at hr@viewHR.co.uk or on 01425 205391 for a free discussion.