26 May, 2020
The use of social media by employers can be seen as a double-edged sword: if used correctly, it can be an invaluable tool and if mismanaged, it can potentially pose and result in significant reputational damage - in various ways.
The latter was most recently illustrated on Sunday evening, when a tweet was posted by the Civil Service from their verified Twitter account following the Government's Covid-19 daily briefing:
"Arrogant and offensive. Can you imagine having to work with these truth twisters?"
Clearly not the intended communication by the Civil Service, questions were automatically raised as to the content and purpose of the post. The tweet has since been removed, however, the initial Tweet has been viewed and screenshots have been shared significantly across social media.
On assessment this may have been the action of a hacker or a case of a disgruntled author airing their grievance albeit through improper means in light of recent news - the "Cummings" and goings.
Applying this situation broadly - what can employers do in the event an employee uses the employer's social media platform improperly to disseminate information which would be deemed inappropriate, derogatory and pose a risk of reputational damage to the employer? Is it simply a case of gross misconduct and an inevitable dismissal?
An Employment Tribunal will look at the above factors and the wider circumstances in deciding on the fairness and reasonableness of a dismissal. As such, an employer will need to consider whether dismissal is reasonable in all the circumstances or perhaps a step too far before issuing a sanction.
How can an employer reduce the risks of misuse?
An employer should refer to their social media policy in order to make misuse easier to deal with. In the absence of such policy, this does not mean that the disciplinary action (dismissal or otherwise) is not fair and reasonable, in this circumstance the offending tweet has caused such reputational damage that it is unlikely the absence of any policy would make a dismissal unfair. However, employers would be in a better position to able to deal with issues that arise and, if such policy exists, and also be better prepared to defend a claim for unfair dismissal if there is subsequent challenge of a dismissal at the Employment Tribunal.
The purpose of such policy is to set out the expectations and standards required. As a general guideline, the policy would provide a framework of behaviour to be complied with (which would cover the use of company social media/private social media during work time and clearly outline not to retaliate or post disparaging comments against colleagues or the company). The policy would therefore provide a greater awareness of risk (confidentiality, data protection/privacy, defamation) to staff and outline the consequences of any breach.
Employees should also be given appropriate training to further ensure that they recognise and understand the use and misuse of social media. In addition, certain reminders should be made on policies and procedures. In this instance, it is reasonable to assume that the employee in question had underlying issues against his/her work colleagues or employer, which would be appropriate to deal with under the relevant grievance policy and procedure. To help resolve conflicts from the outset without it resulting in being in the public domain, employers should communicate clearly to employees on the working practices and measures already in place.
Employers should also consider which members of staff they give access to social media accounts to, employers should balance the need for social media engagement with the reputational risks which can occur in events like these.
Whilst this is an extreme example of misuse of social media these are common issues which employers face and as with many things prevention is the best policy and you should ensure you have a robust social media policy and employees are aware of these issues.
For more information contact James Barron in our Employment & HR department via email or phone on 0161 918 0017. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.