From blogs to business forums and social gaming to social networks, it is hard to escape social media, with some commentators predicting that, by 2021, at least one third of the world’s population will be active users.
Despite this, many are unaware of the potential legal implications of social media use, particularly upon their employment. Social media or internet misuse may be misconduct amounting to a potentially fair reason for an employee to be dismissed by their employer.
In an effort to understand what may or may not be acceptable social media use from an employer’s perspective, it is useful to examine how the courts have dealt with dismissals due to social media or internet misuse.
Private or Public Usage?
Case law shows that it is possible for an employer to fairly dismiss an employee for conduct outside of work, including an employee’s use of social media.
The courts have seen many employees who have been dismissed by their employers due to “private” social media use claiming that their dismissal was not fair because the post or comment made was done so on a private social media account that only friends can see.
Unfortunately, the very fact that an employer knows about a social media post and uses it as a reason for dismissal has, in the eyes of the courts, often negated the argument that the post was private.
Even if the social media use takes place on the employee’s own computer outside of work, the key issue for employers to consider regarding whether it is appropriate to discipline or dismiss an employee as a result of this is whether or not the employee’s social media post damages or has the potential to damage the employer’s reputation.
Using Social Media in Work
Due to social media still being relatively new phenomenon it can be hard for both employers and employees to know where they stand when using social media.
A common problem for many employers is employees’ social media usage affecting their productivity and work rate. This is why more employers are adopting a zero tolerance approach to the usage of social media during working hours, whether it be by implementing social media and internet policies or blocking access to social media platforms on work networks.
If you’re trying to find out where you stand with social media usage in your place of work, you should find out whether your employer has a policy in place relating to the use of social media.
Using Social Media Outside of Work
Although many employees don’t think twice about using social media outside of working hours, this is when disciplinary actions now commonly arise.
When you set up your social media accounts, it is important to consider whether or not you state your place of work on your profiles. Having the name of your employer clearly visible on your profile details means that you are a self-stated representative of that employer; in simple terms this means that any comments, posts or opinions that are viewed in a negative light could seriously affect the reputation of the employer.
If your employer can prove that these comments had or were likely to have a negative effect on its reputation, it may be within its rights to take disciplinary action against you, which could even include summary dismissal.
Overall, social media use in the workplace can be hard to understand due to it being a grey area for many businesses; not least because a business itself may heavily rely on social media platforms for things like advertising and business development. There are not always defined acceptable use policies which can assist employees and employers alike in dealing with social media use and misuse.
If your work life has been negatively impacted by the use of social media and you’re unsure whether there is anything you can do, get in touch with our employment law specialists who can help you find out more and support you through the claim process.