Employees who publish inappropriate posts on social media can, at worst, be dismissed.
As with most things though, there are a lot of grey areas with what can and can’t be personally posted outside of work. To prevent unsuitable comments making it online in the first place, it’s key to set your stance in advance.
This could be by having a specific social media policy outlining what is and isn’t acceptable to publish outside of work – on anything from Instagram to Blogspot.
So, let’s take a look at some of the prominent problem areas…
Breach of confidentiality
This is a big no, no. If, for example, you’re in the care or nursery industries and an employee discloses the name of an individual in your care on social media, this would constitute gross misconduct. In this instance, you’d be within your rights to follow your gross misconduct procedure and dismiss the employee without notice of a first offence.
In other industries, broadcasting sensitive client, customer, company or colleague information – like confidential trade agreements, might constitute gross misconduct. You should set out examples of what constitutes gross misconduct in your social media policy and disciplinary procedure.
It goes without saying that messages that can be deemed criminal are inappropriate. A few examples of this include threats of violence, harassment, stalking and unsolicited sexual images.
This can be a difficult one to deal with. You need to be careful and consider what can be classed as acceptable in-line with a person’s beliefs, and assess this against the effects of the individual’s comments on others and the business. Always fact find before taking action, and remember employees’ religious and political beliefs are protected, which can open you up to discrimination claims if mishandled.
It’s also important to take into account who can see said comments. Using Facebook as an example, if it’s just colleagues who’re friends with the individual then the damage is relatively limited. In this case, it might be enough to simply pull the employee to one side and express how the comments have made people feel.
If an employee, in their spare time, takes to social media to bully fellow employees, they could indeed face dismissal – remember, it doesn’t have to be on the premises to constitute workplace bullying.
You should, however, always deal with situations like this on a case by case basis. Consider things like, was it a one off incident? Was the employee aware of your rules? Did they take steps to rectify the issue, i.e. remove the post? Is informal action enough to nip it in the bud?
With the click of a button, comments and posts can easily be removed from social media. However, this doesn’t mean to say you can’t still take action – providing you have sufficiently strong witness evidence, that is.
Of course, physical evidence is the preferred form though, so we’d always advise saving screenshots where possible.
If the incriminating post or comment has been taken down on the employee’s own accord, we’d recommend you take this into account when deciding on the course of disciplinary action.
Social media can be a minefield. If you’ve any questions on anything from inappropriate posts and gathering evidence, to disciplinaries and dismissal, get in touch with our HR & Employment Law experts on 0345 844 1111.
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