Social Media and Work – What are the Rules?

Following a recent employment tribunal in which an employee was found to have been fairly dismissed for tweeting unsavoury posts about his employer, it is worth a reminder of what employers should have in place in terms of social media policies.

In Creighton v Together Housing Association Ltd, Mr Creighton, an engineer who had 30 years’ service, was dismissed when his employer discovered comments that he had posted on his Twitter account three years previously.
He was dismissed for gross misconduct and brought a claim for unfair dismissal, arguing that his tweets were private and posted some two or three years previously.

The employment tribunal did not agree and said that it was irrelevant whether the tweets were years old. The judge stressed that the comments were visible to anyone and in the public domain, reminding the employee that a negative comment about an employer posted some time ago can still have a negative impact on an employer’s reputation.

What should be in place to ensure that employees understand their obligations?
For employers:

• Ensure a clear social media policy outlining what constitutes gross misconduct. This could be bringing the company’s name into disrepute or bullying other employees.
• Regularly remind employees of expectations regarding social media activity, referring to the policy.
• Be clear to employees that negative social media comment will be investigated could result in dismissal for gross misconduct.
• Ensure any decisions made are well-documented, with clear reasons.

For employees:
• Before posting anything on social media consider what effect it could have.
• Do not think that just because privacy settings are in place this means only ‘friends’ or ‘followers’ can see comments.
• Just because a comment was written some time ago, does not mean it cannot be used by the employer.
• Remember that if a comment or photo is out there on social media, potentially anyone can see it and reuse it. Social media is just that – it’s social.

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