While the benefits of social networking to a company are clear, the dangers should not be underestimated. That is the verdict from Citation, who say that social media has the potential to seriously damage a brand’s reputation, and can also be used as a tool for bullying and harassment.
Thankfully, the inherent risks of social networking can be reduced by a robust social media policy. This will ensure that all employees know what is expected of them on social media sites. Employers should make clear that when staff misuse social media and affect other staff, or the company’s reputation, there could be grounds for dismissal.
Citation are amongst the UK’s leading employment law compliance specialists and over recent years the number of clients who have contacted Citation for advice on the use and misuse of social media has risen greatly. Many clients have cited incidents in which staff have posted inappropriate comments about the company they work for. In turn, the company has asked what they are able to do about it.
The message to employers is that dismissal is a legitimate option so long as the company has a clear social media policy which informs employees that derogatory comments are unacceptable and would be punished in such a way. Recently a high profile unfair dismissal claim against Apple Retail Ltd failed because the company had a clear social media policy which was contravened by the dismissed employee’s derogatory comments on Facebook.
Despite the employee’s right to freedom of expression, the Tribunal sided with the company as their actions were justified to protect their commercial reputation.
The employment law specialists at Citation recommend that contracts of employment and/or company handbooks contain a social media policy which covers the disciplinary penalty in cases of social media abuse.
Citation HR advisers can provide a social media policy which can be tailored to the needs of any business from any industry sector. Once the policy is in place it is important to ensure that all employees sign to confirm that they have read and understood the new terms. These signatures will then be available as evidence at any subsequent employment tribunal hearing.
Further evidence that should be collected includes copies of the web page where comments were made along with statements from any Facebook friends or social media connections who received the offending post. The more evidence that a company can provide before taking action against an employee, the better they will be protected from an employment tribunal.
But few companies might be aware that their actions may be deemed unfair if the same member of staff conducting the investigation also takes part in subsequent disciplinary processes, such as hearings or appeals. Businesses must also use caution when monitoring their employees’ social media presence, to avoid claims of invasion of privacy under Human Rights legislation.
According to the Computer Misuse Act 1990, it is a criminal offence to hack an employee’s private emails. It is clear from previous high profile cases, however, that an employee’s Facebook privacy settings do not prevent inappropriate comments from being copied by ‘friends’ and thus could be cited as reason for a dismissal.
The severity of the action taken by the company will be reflected in the seriousness of the comments made. For this reason, Citation advises that businesses react quickly and consistently to all breaches of social media policy. Before doing so, however, they should always seek professional advice.
Andrea O’Hare, Head of Employment Law & HR Services at Citation, said: “By consulting a HR advisor before entering into the disciplinary processes, businesses can ensure that the right procedures are followed, and they get the right result.
“Employment legislation can be a minefield; and is regularly altered or updated. But with professional services, employers can ensure that they are always compliant with the very latest procedures, and won’t incur the wrath of a costly employment tribunal.”
Citation provides Employment Law Compliance and HR Services to UK businesses in every industry. They take away the strain of contract drafting, disciplinary procedures, risk assessments and much more, leaving employers to focus on the things they do best; particularly running a successful business.
For more information on social media misuse, or any other employment law and health and safety compliance issues, call 0845 234 0404, or pay a visit to http://citation.co.uk.