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Avoiding a tribunal claim: Managing social media

Social media is everywhere these days, be it at home, on the train and of course very often in the workplace.

The key platforms as you will no doubt be aware are Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. The personal nature of these pages allow the user to share news, gossip, photo and video, no matter how inane or mundane. A profile can be restricted to being seen by family and friends, or alternatively be open to the general public.

Many professionals view social media as a tool to be utilised for progression of their professional goals, this in particular relates to LinkedIn. However problems can arise for employers where individuals make comments on their personal pages in the mistaken belief that no one from work will see them. The consequences for such mistakes can range from the relatively mild to the outright catastrophic.

Where an individual makes a derogatory remark about their employer, a colleague or client then it is entirely possible that a libel action could be brought against them. Given the relative costs of defending such a claim this would be disastrous for both the individual and naturally their employer whose name would be dragged through the mud in the process, particularly where a client or supplier has been libelled.

How then can an employer limit the likelihood of such incidents taking place? There will always be rogue employees who will not tow the party line and take to the internet to vent their frustration, this is unfortunately unavoidable.

An employee’s contract of employment does place upon them an implied term of trust and confidence in addition to the further obligation not to bring their employer into disrepute. It follows then that when inappropriate comments are made an employee could be subject to disciplinary action up to and including being dismissed, dependent on the severity of the statements made and the size of the audience they reached.

That course of action provides the textbook legal approach, however the best method of prevention by far for an employer is the implementation of a detailed clause in their employment contract dealing with social media together with a clear and robust policy. 

Any policy dealing with social media should be as comprehensive as possible and detail what is expected of employees, including what and actions and comments could land them in deep water. Once a policy is implemented an employee will not be able to plead ignorance as a defence! 

Conclusion

So from a practical point of view it cannot be stressed enough how important it is for employers to not only implement a policy on the use of social media by employees but to also train them on it. There have been numerous incidents reported in the wider press of individuals being dismissed for posting rants against their employer or its clients.

What is often not reported is the action taken by the employees subsequent to their termination. It does not make for explosive newsprint to publish a follow-up story on the employee winning their unfair dismissal claim because the employer did not have a policy in place stating clearly what was expected on the social media front.

The categorical advice then is to seek professional advice on putting a robust policy in place, sooner rather than later.

If you need advice either in the drafting of a social media policy or in a dispute relating to social media please do not hesitate to contact me for a free 30 minute initial consultation on 0113 350 4030 or at samira.cakail@scesolicitors.co.uk


Please note that the information in this blog is to provide information of general interest in a summary manner and should not be construed as individual legal advice. Readers should consult with SCE Solicitors or other professional counsel before acting on the information contained here

Samira Cakali

Samira Cakali is a pragmatic and approachable solicitor advocate with extensive contentious and non-contentious experience in the fields of employment law as well as civil litigation, within a range of commercial businesses from SME’s to multinationals as well as senior executives.

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