April 17, 2015

Social Media in the Workplace

Social media now plays a key role in many businesses as well as in the personal lives of most employees.

Employees can, and often do, stray outside of purely personal use and this overlap can cause problems for employers and, of course, provides them with the challenge of monitoring and controlling information.

Two very recent decisions provide some help and guidance for employers.

Threatening messages on Twitter

In Game Retail Limited v Laws, Game have a chain of retail outlets and Laws was a senior manager overseeing 100 of the stores. Laws set up a personal twitter account unrelated to Game.

Of the 100 stores he was responsible for 65 were followers of his account. He posted a number of offensive and sometimes threatening messages, none of which were work related or referred to Game.

He was reported by another manager and was dismissed for gross misconduct. The Employment Tribunal found the dismissal to be unfair because…

  • The Twitter account was not work related
  • The messages had been made in Law’s own time and on his own mobile phone
  • The messages were not work related and no members of the public had access to the twitter feed
  • There was no mention in the disciplinary policy relating to the private use of social media.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) disagreed, saying the judge had substituted his own view for that of the reasonable employer and that there had to be a balance between the employer’s desire to reduce reputational risk and the right of freedom of expression.

Inappropriate images

In Williams v Leeds United Football Club, Williams was the Technical Director, paid £200k per year. In 2013 he was made redundant. There was a dispute about his notice period, he said this was 12 months, the club said 3 months.

Whilst he was working his notice period, it came to light that, using his work email he had sent a highly pornographic image to a male friend.

He was disciplined and summarily dismissed for gross misconduct. It later came to light that he had sent the image to a second male friend and to a junior female colleague. Williams brought a wrongful dismissal claim in the High Court, which failed as it found that his behaviour amounted to gross misconduct and a repudiatory breach of contract.

Employers need to ensure that that they have appropriate policies in place setting out the parameters of social media use, the use of the employer’s equipment, the prohibition of harassment, bullying and discrimination, the prohibition of identifying the individual as an employee of the employer and finally a clear statement warning that serious breaches will be treated as gross misconduct.

If you need advice on this topic, contact us and we’ll ensure you follow best practice.

By Peter Redman LL.B(Hons), Solicitor

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