A recent employment tribunal decision upheld Apple’s dismissal of a retail store employee who posted derogatory comments about his employer on Facebook in violation of the company’s policy on social media. The employee was dismissed for gross misconduct following the comments, which he claimed were private and came under his right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The tribunal disagreed, feeling that the comments could easily have been shared by the employees’ friends with the wider public.
On a much smaller scale than Apple, I’ve worked on several disciplinary cases recently for small business clients, and in over half of them, social media has been either directly or indirectly the issue at hand. There have also been several cases through the tribunals on this subject recently, and ACAS has recently published guidance on it and recommended that employers implement a social media policy. I have to say I agree. Of the disputes I’ve been involved with recently, the ones where employers had a policy on social media were much more straightforward, and several others could have been prevented had the employer had clear guidance in place.
With that in mind, below are my five reasons every employer needs clear guidance on social media as part of its HR policies or staff handbook.
- It sets out expectations on both sides. The employee is clear what is and what isn’t acceptable, and is similarly clear what the outcome may be in the event of a breach.
- Problems are less likely to occur in the first place because of the above – there is a disincentive to (for example) post derogatory comments about the employer on Facebook because the employee knows there are significant risks involved for them.
- If problems do occur, the employer has solid grounds on which to act. Although many dismissals relating to social media coming through the tribunals have been found to be fair, the employer is more likely to run into problems if expectations and likely outcomes are not clear to employees.
- Protect the employer against liability for the actions of its employees, if the employees have been made aware what behaviour is unacceptable.
- Helps the employer comply with laws on subjects like data protection and discrimination.
A recent report on social media in the workplace published by law firm DLA Piper found that nearly a third of employers have disciplined staff for inappropriate behaviour on social media sites, 34% feel they are exposed to risk because of confidential information being posted on social media sites, and less than half had relevant rules or policies contained somewhere within either HR or IT policies. Social media use has developed very quickly, and continues to do so, and many employers aren’t keeping up with those developments.
I’m not one to recommend excessive HR documentation for small businesses. When making recommendations for small business clients, I propose what I feel will be actively beneficial for that particular employer, no more and no less. But guidance on social media is on my very short list of documents every employer needs.
For advice on a social media-related problem with your staff, or assistance drafting a policy to suit your organisation, contact me on 01480 387933 or email info@face2faceHR.com.