Can my social media posts get me into trouble at work?
After England lost the Euro 2020 final back in June, we heard reports of employees getting fired after tweeting racist comments about players. This issue of racism on social media continues to be addressed by employers and the media alike, however, it has put the spotlight once again on employees’ social media habits in general and how it affects their reputation in the workplace.
Can my boss monitor my social media?
Checking potential employees’ social media has been an integral part of the recruitment process for some time; from checking a potential employee’s LinkedIn experience corresponds with their CV, to looking at their Facebook profile to check for content that could take them off the shortlist. But what about existing employees?
No law restricts employers from checking employees’ social media. The nature of social media means that this information is normally publicly accessible, meaning that really, it’s fair game.
Your employer is allowed to monitor your use of social media and the internet at work, and they can do this with or without your consent, as long as it’s specified in the Staff Handbook and/or social media policy.
What can and can’t I say on social media?
In the 2014 case of Game Retail Ltd v Laws, whereby an employee claimed he was unfairly dismissed after posting tweets about his employer on his private Twitter profile, the Employment Appeal Tribunal said that “Generally speaking, workers have the right to express themselves providing it does not infringe on their employment and/or is outside the work context.”
It may sound ambiguous, but employees should use common sense when writing on social media. If you have even an ounce of doubt in your mind about whether something might come across as controversial or offensive to anyone, you should think twice about posting. The general rule of thumb is, ‘if in doubt, do not post it’, even if your profile is private and you are not ‘followed’ by anyone you work with or for. Anyone who does follow you can easily screenshot your words and send them to your employer (which they can find via a simple Google or LinkedIn search).
Of course, a general post about starting work for an organisation or comments about having a good day at your place of work is fine (and encouraged in most cases), however, anything that comes across as negative about your employer, individuals you work with, or clients or customers of the business, can easily come under fire.
If you are unsure as to whether anything you have said in the past could be deemed offensive or discriminatory, it is worth checking your posts and removing anything that you feel unsure about. This is not to say that removing the evidence will prevent you from getting into trouble; you never know who already holds screenshots of those posts and when it might come to you and your employer’s attention.
I’ve been dismissed for a social media post. What are my rights?
If the post is not in keeping with the employer’s values, is offensive or sufficiently controversial, then you may be fairly dismissed for gross misconduct. However, the employer should still follow the correct and proper procedure to dismiss you.
If you believe that you have been dismissed without good reason, i.e. you believe the social media post in question did not breach your social media policy, or your employer has failed to follow the correct process, you could claim for unfair dismissal.
If a worker claims unfair dismissal, an employment tribunal will consider the following three aspects:
- Did the employer carry out a reasonable investigation?
- Did the employer genuinely believe the employee was guilty of the misconduct?
- Did the employer have reasonable grounds for that belief?
How can employers ensure that employees adhere to their social media policy?
Firstly, it’s important that employers have a watertight and legally sound social media policy that is readily available for all employees. This can either be on the company’s intranet site or in a toolkit with the other HR documents.
It’s always worth having a specialist employment lawyer draft or review any contract, including a social media policy, to ensure that it adequately protects both the employer and the employee.
As well as having the policy readily available, it’s important to include it as part of the induction process for new recruits, and then send out reminders about the social media policy every few months.
Contact our employment lawyers today
Our employment solicitors work with both employees and employers across Bristol and South Gloucestershire. Whether you’re a business owner seeking legal advice on employment contracts or policies, or you are an employee who needs support on making an unfair dismissal claim, we are here to help.