12 August, 2011
In recent months, the use of Twitter by many footballers has led to quite a degree of controversy. Leeds manager Simon Grayson has purportedly banned all of his players from using Twitter; and most recently, Joey Barton, the Newcastle midfielder, has found himself in a huge amount of trouble, even being transfer listed as a result of derogatory tweets about Newcastle United Football Club, his employer.
This obviously brings into question the ability of any employer, whether a Football Club or not, to ban their employees from using social media in this way.
Regulating employees conduct outside of work is a difficult issue. It could certainly be argued that an outright ban on employees having, for example, a Twitter account, would be something that a Court would be reluctant to enforce; it certainly seems extremely restrictive. However, if an employer has a robust policy dealing with the use of social media in place, and banning or restricting employees from making derogatory comments about their employer in an online forum, then they would be able to take disciplinary action in the event of an employee breaching this. In the absence of any such policy, it could be argued that an employer could still take disciplinary action as a result of derogatory comments posted in the public domain but it will be more difficult for them to do so. As ever with any employment issue, having clear rules and procedures in place will always help an employer deal with any issues that may arise.
Over the last 12-18 months the use of social media has featured in many of the cases dealt with by Forbes' Employment Team and that figure is expected to increase.
It is therefore crucially important that any employer has in place a robust policy for social media. Employees should always remember that anything posted online is in the public domain, and has a potential to be hugely damaging to their employers business and could amount to a disciplinary issue.