In light of the gaffe from the BBC journalist tweeting about the death of the Queen, employment law solicitor Philip Landau examines how the use of social media in relation to work issues can land you in hot water.
The BBC journalist who wrongly tweeted about the Queen’s death a few days ago has hit the headlines, and thrown into the spotlight yet again how the use of social media at work can land you into trouble.
It is not just careless comments on social media sites that can put your career at risk, however you can also face disciplinary action for criticising your employer or work colleagues. Although you may consider such comments to be your private views with your privacy settings intact, social media forums are nevertheless increasingly viewed by employment tribunals as being in the public domain once the post goes live. This is regardless of the privacy settings of your profile.
In ascertaining whether an employee has crossed the line, what needs to be considered is if anything posted simply amounts to “harmless banter” or something more serious that goes to the root of the employment relationship. It is also relevant is whether the employer was identifiable, the impact on their image and whose attention it was likely to come to. It will be a matter of fact and degree in every case and some will obviously be easier to determine than others. If, for example, an employer has no reputation in the first place to protect, (or one that is already in shreds), it will be more of an uphill struggle for an employer to play the “injured party” card.
Many employers now have a social media and/or blogging policy as part of their contractual terms with employees, which provide clear parameters as to what is deemed acceptable conduct. If an employer does have such a policy, it puts them in a much stronger position if they want to take action against their employees. In more serious cases, the social media post can amount to gross misconduct and, therefore, instant dismissal.
Employees can also come unstuck if they are seen to be bullying colleagues online. This is because employers have a duty of care towards their staff, and it is irrelevant whether the bullying activity is taking place via their private social media accounts and outside working hours. Unacceptable bullying by social media can include:
You should therefore be warned. On the face of it, social networking outlets such as Facebook and Twitter offer you an immediate arena for venting spleen on any issues, including gripes and grievances about work and your colleagues. On the positive side, it also provides an opportunity to air exciting news about developments at work. But if you cross the line in terms of acceptable conduct or breach your employer’s confidentiality, you may end up be tweeting about your loss of employment instead.