“The internet is just a world passing around notes in a classroom” – Jon Stewart
Using social media, particularly Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat, has become deeply imbedded in our everyday lives.
As of the second quarter of 2017, Twitter has 328 million active users worldwide. It was forecast that there will be 17.1 million users in the United Kingdom by 2018. Facebook has more than 800 million active users worldwide. The UK makes up 31 million of those users, with 60% of the population having a Facebook account. These platforms are arguably the quickest and easiest way to connect with your family, friends, work colleagues, full of interesting discussion, witty dialogue and pictures of cats. Despite the many advantages of using social media there are also plenty of pitfalls which have resulted in many headlines over the years. Employees who commit misconduct on social media and as a result face disciplinary actions are no longer an unusual occurrence in organisations.
One of the latest social media related cases is Plant v API Microelectronics Limited, which took place in the Norwich employment tribunal earlier this year.
To summarise, the employee was dismissed after posting content on Facebook which the employer considered to be derogatory. The disciplinary hearing decided that the employee had committed gross misconduct, and dismissed her. Following this decision the employee took the case to tribunal stating that the outcome of dismissal was disproportionate and unfair. The employment tribunal decided that the employee had been fairly dismissed, noting that she accepted that she had breached the employer’s social media policy.
This case highlights the importance of a robust social media policy. A good social media policy should aim to ensure employees do not feel gagged, staff and managers feel protected against online bullying and the organisation feels confident its reputation will be maintained.
As an employer you should aim to remove uncertainty around this subject by developing a policy that clearly sets out what is and what is not acceptable behaviour when using the internet, emails, smart phones, and networking websites. Try to devise guiding principles for employees on what they can and cannot say about the organisation. Any policy should be clear throughout about the distinction between business and private use of social media. It would be beneficial if you were to offer examples of what might be classed as ‘defamation’ and the penalties attached to this. The employer should also be clear in outlining what is regarded as confidential in the organisation.
Some Legal Considerations
The Human Rights Act 1998 Article 8 gives a ‘right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence’. Case law suggests that employees have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the workplace.
The Data Protection Act 1988 covers how information about employees and job applicants can be collected, handled and used. The Information Commissioner’s Office has published an employment practices code to help employers comply with the law.
The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 covers the extent to which organisations can use covert surveillance.
If you are unsure about whether or not your Social Media Policy is up to scratch why not get in touch? We’re happy to review any policy or procedure you may have or be looking to implement and can help you identify risk areas. Just get in touch with one of the team on 01924 827869.