Social Media Misconduct – When is it Stepping Over the Line?

BlogHR Advice Posted: Tuesday 19th September 2017 by

Social media is a minefield for employers and employees alike, especially as social media content posted on any site is there forever, embedded into the very fabric of the internet.

Mostly, social media content posted by an employee will be harmless, but every now and then your employees social media activity needs to be monitored for content that negatively affects the reputation of your business…. Or worse.

When this happens, it’s important to immediately take steps to prevent any further comments about your business, its employees or its customers and begin the process of gathering evidence for potential disciplinary proceedings.

The challenge is that there is not yet any hard and fast rules connecting social media use with employment law. The law currently just asks for a ‘fair and reasonable’ response when employers find it necessary to discipline staff for social media abuse. Defining what is ‘fair and reasonable’ is open to interpretation, but disciplinary action could be considered when:

– Your business reputation is at risk

– An employee using social media to bully or harass another person connected to the business

– The company’s social media policies have been breached

– There is evidence of an employee engaged in illegal activity is posted on social media

– There is evidence that an employee has publicly posted trade secrets or confidential information about your company.

In which case, appropriate ways to deal with this behaviour would be to begin disciplinary proceedings as laid out within your company’s employee handbook.

However, there are also actions taken on social media that your business may consider to be offensive or potentially damaging, but actually are within your employee’s rights to express themselves freely. For example, in the case of Smith vs Trafford Housing, Adrian Smith, a manager at Trafford Housing Trust, was demoted for making comments on Facebook opposing gay marriage. He was demoted rather than fired for misconduct as Smith had served more than 19 years with the company. He later took the Trust to Tribunal, who ruled in his favour, but he was awarded just £100 in compensation.

In a more recent case, a man who was fired for sharing another butcher’s ‘meat deal’ on social media has won an employment tribunal against his former employer. Michael Hayward, who worked as a butcher in Wigan was fired from his job for gross misconduct for recommending another butcher in a Facebook conversation with his girlfriend. Hayward was not given any prior warnings and not been taken through any form of disciplinary procedure before being dismisses. He was later awarded a £6,091 payout.

Employers without a robust social media policy are at more risk than most. Without a strong policy, employees may be unaware of what you expect from them and what the consequences are for breaching the rules.

For support with forming a social media policy, or advice on how to handle a case of social media misconduct, get in touch with the HR experts at Human Results.  

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