Implications of Abusing Social Media in the Workplace

Social media lends itself to people making comments on the spur of the moment, some of which may be intended as a joke, but are later regretted. But when it relates to your workplace, it can cost you dearly.

It is increasingly becoming a source of friction in employment law, with some recent decisions shedding light on how employees can be caught out.

We asked our legal expert Philip Landau to explain more…

 

“You may have read about the general issue before – how the posting of adverse comments relating to your work can get you into trouble.

But with a string of recent cases, some of which have reached the employment tribunals, there is a potent reminder of the perils of posting about your workplace or colleagues on Facebook and other social media sites, especially where this is in clear breach of your employer’s social media policy.

What has been highlighted is how the tribunals are prepared to uphold an employer’s decision to dismiss an employee for their social media comments regardless of the fact that there may have been privacy settings in place to restrict posts to a limited group of friends and family. The tribunals’ message appears clear: once your workplace comments are posted on a social media site, they transcend the cloak of privacy regardless of your personal settings and become “public” and therefore open to scrutiny.

It is worth highlighting some of the recent decisions which show how the law is developing:

  • In a recent case, a Mr Weeks who was a former employee at telecoms company EE, made frequent references to the workplace as “Dante’s Inferno“. He was subsequently reported to the company by his “Facebook friend” (who also happened to be his work colleague) for both being in breach of the company’s social media policy and because the comments were influencing other staff who were also his online friends. Mr W was given warnings, but continued to make comments about how he disliked where he worked – even though the company wasn’t mentioned by name. He failed to stop posting adverse comments and even made harassing and bullying Facebook comments against the colleague he suspected of reporting him. The tribunal held that Mr W’s dismissal as a result of his Facebook postings was fair.
  • In another recent case, a former worker at B & Q, a Mr Trasler, after a bad day at work posted on Facebook that his employers were a “f****** joke” and that he would be doing some “busting” at work, which B & Q interpreted as doing damage to property, although he added “LMAO” after the posting (meaning “laugh my a*** off”). Mr Trasler argued because of this, it was obvious that the comments should not have been taken seriously. In this case, the tribunal held that his dismissal was unfair as it accepted the one off posting had been borne out of the frustration of a bad day and there was no reputational damage. In addition, B & Q had not followed a proper process as prior warnings should have been given. Nevertheless his award was reduced by 50% because of his actions and, of course, the damage had already been done – he was still dismissed.
  • A Northern Ireland tribunal last year in the case of Teggart-v- Teletech UK Limited held that the dismissal of an employee for posting obscene comments relating to the promiscuity of a female colleague on his Facebook page was reasonable and fair on the basis of gross misconduct. The tribunal said, “When the Claimant put his comments on his Facebook page, to which members of the public could have access, he abandoned any right to consider his comments private”. Furthermore, he was not entitled to rely on the right to privacy under Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

Many cases of dismissals for social media abuse won’t get as far as tribunals, of course. Indeed, earlier this year, according to figures revealed under the Freedom of Information Act, it was reported that 11 civil servants were confirmed to have been dismissed from the Department of Work and Pensions because of their use of Twitter and Facebook in breach of the Department’s social media policy. None of the affected employees had issued proceedings.

These decisions do represent a wake-up call to exercise caution in what you post online, even if only to your “friends” on Facebook. This is particularly so where your Facebook friends include past and present work colleagues, or members of the public who could be customers or associated in other ways with your employer. You cannot after all, predict who will read your comments, or in whose hands they will end up.”

Jobsite have partnered with specialist employment law solicitor Philip Landau, to bring you expert advice on your rights in all key areas of your working life. As a Jobsite user you are also entitled to receive a free initial consultation on all employment law issues from Philip. Philip can help with a number of legal problems; perhaps you feel your employer isn’t following their legal responsibilities, you believe you have been dismissed unfairly or you are unsure about clauses in your contract. Once he knows your specific situation he can let you know what your rights are and what action you can take. To get in touch with Philip, click the link below and he will contact you to discuss your situation in more detail. Philip Landau is a solicitor and partner, specialising in employment law, in the London legal firm Landau Zeffertt Weir.

Click here to here to contact Philip

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