HR Alert: A tweet too far...

PRACTICES should ensure their social media policy not only covers use at work, but also tweets or posts by employees made in their own time that may impact on the workplace.

The increasing popularity of social networking sites is now recognised by most employers, but with that comes a variety of potential issues.

Most practices have a social media policy that clearly sets out what is and is not acceptable. Despite this, there can be a blurring of lines regarding employees sharing information online and the impact it may have on the workplace.

This is highlighted in a recent case. In Game Retail Ltd v Laws (2014), Mr Laws, a risk and loss prevention investigator for the well-known high street store Game, was summarily dismissed after a manager within the organisation raised concerns about the tweets he was sending from his personal Twitter account.

Mr Laws had initially opened his Twitter account to monitor the company’s social media activity and 65 Game stores subsequently followed suit after encouragement from a manager.

After a pre-disciplinary investigation, it emerged that he had tweeted 28 offensive tweets which included expletives and obscene language.

An employment tribunal found that his dismissal was unfair as Mr Laws stated that his tweets were posted for private use and Game’s disciplinary policy did not explicitly state that inappropriate use of social media in private time could be classed as gross misconduct.

Game appealed this decision and it was subsequently overturned by the Employment Appeal Tribunal. It stated that although Mr Law had been using Twitter in his own time, he had not restricted his account to private and he was aware that his tweets could be seen by a number of staff. As a result, the offensive tweets could not be considered private.

Furthermore, the tweets did not need to relate to Game and there was no need to prove that the tweets had actually caused offence, only that Game were able to conclude that they may have.

There are some important lessons to drawn from this case. Practices should ensure that they include these guidelines as part of their social media policy:

  • Employees must be respectful in all communications and blogs related to or referencing the practice, any associated company and/or any colleagues and patients
  • Employees must not use obscenities, profanity or vulgar language in practice communications
  • Employees must not use blogs or personal websites to disparage the practice, any associated company and/or any colleagues and patients
  • Employees must not use blogs or websites to harass, bully or intimidate other employees or patients
  • Employees must not post pictures of patients or other employees on the internet without their permission
  • Materials such as the practice logo are not to be used without prior permission

If you would like a copy of a sample social media policy, please email us at employmentlaw@mddus.com and we will be happy to send you a copy.