Social Media policy guidelines

Ryanair has been in the news again for dismissing cabin crew staff for gross misconduct. It is claimed that the crew staged a photograph showing them sleeping on an airport floor in the crew room after being grounded due to storms in Porto.

The airline described the photo, which was widely shared by the public across social media, as “behaviour which damaged their employer’s reputation and caused an irreparable breach of trust with these six persons”.

There is case law which provides guidance to employers on when it may be fair and appropriate to dismiss an employee for negative comments made on social media when the employer can be identified resulting in damage to the employer’s reputation.

A clear policy on social media should include:

examples of unacceptable behaviour, such as making comments that could damage the employer’s reputation.
a reminder to employees not to rely on Facebook’s privacy settings, as comments made on these sites can be copied and forwarded by third parties without their consent.
a warning that serious breaches of the policy could lead to disciplinary action, including dismissal.

Given the widespread use of social media by employees, it is important for employers to have in place a policy on the use of social media that is communicated to staff. Where an employer has a clearly written social media policy in place, which is applied consistently and employees are made aware of the policy and the consequences of any violations, a dismissal is more likely to be fair.  Employers should always bear in mind that as well as establishing a fair reason for dismissing, a fair dismissal will always be subject to the employer following a fair dismissal process and considering any mitigating circumstances, or alternatives to dismissal (such as demotion or a final written warning) where appropriate.

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