The media has covered situations where individuals have been disciplined, or had offers of employment withdrawn, as a result of posts they put on social media. This was because posts in question were deemed to be ‘unacceptable’ to their employer or potential employer.
But, the posts were made from personal accounts, so why did these organisations take this action? Surely it’s none of their business what an individual posts on social media. Especially if the post was private or there was no mention of the organisation in their profile or the post?
When does it matter?
Even if a post is from a personal account, the key consideration is whether it can be linked to their employment. Or if it could damage the organisation’s reputation. This issue needs to be considered properly and fully before action is taken. Of course a post by an employee or applicant may not put your organisation in a particularly positive light. But it’s important not to take a disproportionate view of the damage or potential damage to its reputation. The facts should be considered carefully, including:
- The employee’s role and seniority
- The nature of the social media post
- Whether the damage to reputation is actual or potential and if it’s a genuine risk
- Whether the employee has received a previous warning for similar conduct
- Whether the employee expressed regret at their actions?
- Are there any other mitigating factors to consider?
Organisations should ensure clear information and training is given to employees about the importance of the corporate reputation and image. There should also be a clear policy about the organisation’s expectations about employees’ use of social media. It’s also important to have clear policies on equality, diversity and inclusion and conduct training in this area. That way the organisation can demonstrate the their stance in these areas, and therefore how the employee’s actions are a direct breach. A clear disciplinary policy and procedure is also important, ensuring it includes the types of behaviour and conduct that will be regarded as serious, or gross misconduct.
Rights of the parties
Obviously, individuals have rights under the Human Rights Act 1998, and the GDPR Data Protection Act 2018, so monitoring social media needs to be done with care, to avoid breaching these rights. It requires a very careful balancing act to make sure the rights of both parties are protected. Not easy.
When it comes to monitoring social media, it’s always best to have a very clear policy about social media and data protection, privacy and monitoring. Equally important is ensuring these policies are within the principle of fair, lawful and transparent processing of personal data. Generally, the most usual grounds for monitoring this activity will be legitimate interests. But again, this needs to be balanced against the individual’s rights and freedoms. If the social media account is private, and there was an expectation it would remain so, then potentially the individual’s rights would override the organisation’s legitimate interests in monitoring that activity.
The organisation would need to articulate the purpose of the monitoring. For example, if it were to prevent sexual harassment, or ‘hate speech’, this might provide a legitimate reason. A stronger argument might be reputation protection of the business, and minimising vicarious liability for the acts of an individual. If the individual doesn’t have a private account and states the name of their employer on their profile, a clear connection can be made. If the named organisation were seen to tolerate posts of a discriminatory nature the reputational damage would be difficult to deny.
How do you deal with it?
If an employee puts a post on social media that is contrary to their aim to eliminate discrimination and hate speech, or which detrimentally impacts the organisation’s reputation, it should be treated as any disciplinary would. The disciplinary policy should be followed as with any disciplinary issue. The investigation and consideration of all the facts and impact on the organisation should be thorough. Any investigation conducted should be undertaken by someone other than the employee’s manager, or the person who will make the ultimate disciplinary decision. Any action you take must be done within the ACAS Code of Practice for disciplinary and grievances. Regardless of the severity of the alleged offence, employers should not dismiss an employee without following a fair process.
If one of your employees has made social media posts of concern, and you’d like advice, get in touch.