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Employment Law and Social Media

Thursday, 13 December 2012

The use of social media by employees can bring both tremendous benefits and great difficulties to businesses. In the early days of social media, companies’ greatest concerns were focused on the loss of valuable work time to social networks during office hours. This focus has rapidly shifted as businesses have become more Internet savvy and have sought to use the power of social networks to generate new business.

Social media including LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter is now being used for sales, marketing, advertising, PR and recruitment as well as peoples’ social lives. Ensuring that company’s employment contracts and HR practices keep up is important to protect both employers and employees from falling foul of expectations.

Social Media Issues in the Workplace

The potential challenges that social media can present to both businesses might include:

  • Posting defamatory statements about colleagues, customers or the business
  • Posting inappropriate advances (sexual harassment)
  • Posting inappropriate language (discrimination)
  • Bullying
  • Discriminatory recruitment practices when screening candidates
  • Ownership of customer contact information
  • Breach of intellectual property rights such as copyright

 

In more general terms, it can be very difficult for the parties to be clear about the distinction between personal activities and professional activities, particularly where social media accounts are used in both contexts by an individual.

Social Media Cases

The number of cases in this area of employment law are limited which means that ground rules have not been clearly established. In Whitham v Club 24 Ltd t/a Ventura, the employer was found to have unfairly dismissed an employee for comments she wrote on Facebook. Ms Whitham stated on her wall, "I think I work in a nursery and I do not mean working with plants" which the employer believed might damage an important business relationship. On the other hand, in Teggart v TeleTech UK Limited the employer was found to have fairly dismissed a male employee for harassment when he posted explicit comments about a female colleague’s alleged promiscuity on his Facebook page.

Employers’ Social Media Precautions

In the interests of both employers and employees it is important that employers pre-empt potential issues arising from social media. Policies should be put in place to ensure that employees understand the potential impact of social media on the business, the image of the business and disciplinary consequences arising from policy breaches.

This should be the case even where behaviour is already covered by existing employment legislation such as discrimination and harassment. Additional elements can be incorporated into employment contracts and into company policies to explicitly cover issues such as ownership of customer contact details.

If you would like more information regarding the effect of social media on the employment relationship or other Employment matters, Rollingsons has experienced lawyers who can advise you. Please contact Aneil Balgobin via e-mail ABalgobin@rollingsons.co.uk or by telephone on 0207 611 4848.

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