Social media has revolutionised communications in the modern digital age. Most organisations that employ people find it to be an effective means of communication and promotion of their company. The Covid-19 lockdown saw businesses take to social media to reach out to their customers and stakeholders, as well as to staff to ensure that operations were managed as some businesses continued to survive.
However, despite its potential effectiveness, social media can cause damage to employer reputation if used incorrectly or recklessly.
For example, when employees get frustrated with a problem at work, they sometimes turn to their personal social media account to express their views on the situation and post negatively about the company resulting in a negative perception of the company by those who follow the employee on Instagram or Facebook pages for example.
Employees often post comments or photos on their personal account, which identify them as an employee of a particular business. This can potentially affect a company’s public reputation, especially if the posts suggest that they engage in excessive alcohol consumption or take illegal drugs. We have been asked to advise in cases where someone has commented on someone else’s post, who has used racist, homophobic or sexist language on their profile, which by commenting on, associated the employee with the original author. The ripple effect is greater when those who follow that employee as a role model see the comments and their opinion of their mentor becomes negative and then associate those remarks with their employer.
In recent years, there have been an increasing number of high profile cases about social media both in and out of the workplace. For example, Mr Weeks who worked for Everything Everywhere Ltd posted on his Facebook page in which he compared his workplace to Dante’s Inferno. Saying in one post, “Another day at Dante’s… hope you all have a better day than I am going to have”. When confronted by his boss, he refused to take down the posts and stop posting more. He was dismissed for breaching the company’s social media policy and his unfair dismissal claim was rejected by the Tribunal, who concluded that sustained negative posts were likely to cause reputational damage and the employer’s response was reasonable.
On the face of it, social media can give rise to a vast amount of problems and can seem daunting to manage. However, these problems can be tackled through:
- A clear social media policy and guidelines, setting out expectations of employees’ behaviour outside as well as within their job activities; and what is and is not acceptable behaviour in regards to the use of social media
- A clear and fair disciplinary procedure which is applied fairly and consistently
- Developing policies that are clear to employees that certain types of social media activities can lead to disciplinary action, and could also lead in some cases to dismissal for repeatedly offending or dismissal without notice for gross misconduct, where the reputation of the employer is at risk or has been damaged. Consequently, the policy will need to dovetail in to your various other policies, such as disciplinary and anti-harassment and bullying policies.
By providing a framework for employees to work within which is applied fairly and consistently, you set the ground rules, on which a more positive social media experience can take place, and in turn allows your company to engage with and benefit from the positives of social media. Additionally, you diminish the likelihood of claims for bullying, harassment, unfair and/or constructive dismissal.
Finally, whilst there is no legislation that states that organisations cannot review an individual’s social media page when recruiting, in the interests of fair recruitment free from discrimination based on a protected characteristic (age, sex, religion etc.), recruiting employer’s should not leap to reject a candidate just because they don’t like their social media posts. . Because this also amounts to process their personal data, which could breach UK GDPR rule.
If you need help with creating or reviewing a social media policy, please contact one of our team.