Understanding your Social Networking Policy is the Key
ACAS have recently published a guide on the use of social networking in the workplace. The guide provides useful steps for employers on how they should manage the use of internet in and out of the workplace. Many businesses, such as PR firms, encourage their staff to use Facebook and Twitter as a useful and free promotional aid; however, some businesses are more conservative and have blanket bans on the use of social networking.
The issues can be complex and involve arguments involving an individual's freedom of speech, whether actions outside the workplace can justify dismissal and the extent to which employers can seek to protect their reputation.
The growth of social networking has also caused many employers to amend and review their policies on internet usage. Employees using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other sites may use those forums to air grievances about their work. This has the potential to cause damage to the employer's reputation depending on ‘how public' the comments are made. Whilst it is legitimate for an employer to seek to protect their business, it should be borne in mind that individual's have a right to free speech and private life.
Recent decisions in the Employment Tribunal have shown just how important it is to have a clear policy in place that both the employer and employee understand. In Preece v JD Wetherspoons plc, P, a bar manager, was dismissed on the grounds of gross misconduct following a conversation she had on her facebook account involving some customers from the bar. The customers subsequently saw the comments and complained to P's manager. The claimant was dismissed on the grounds of gross misconduct which the Tribunal upheld. However in Whitham v Club 24 Ltd t/a Ventura the claimant was dismissed for misconduct after making comments regarding her colleagues and clients on Facebook. The employer argued her comments could have damaged their relationship with a client and had put their reputation at risk. The Tribunal found the comments were mild and therefore dismissal fell outside the band of reasonable responses. The Tribunal also found the employer did not undertake a reasonable investigation (as to assessing the risk of harm to the relationship with client) and the employer had not understood its own policy.
Employers need to provide employees with a clear policy on what is appropriate and how using the internet and social networking are linked to the business's disciplinary and dismissal policy.
See here for the ACAS guidelines: http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=3375
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Author: Dominic Speedie
Date published: 5th October 2011