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‘Social media policy warning’ for employers

An employment law expert is warning businesses to take care before making a decision to dismiss if an employee breaches a company’s social media policy.

Oliver McCann, partner in the Employment & HR team at regional law firm Napthens, revealed many businesses which have a large public presence operate a social media policy which sets out rules about both social media postings on the corporate account and the individuals own personal social media accounts.

This may cover ‘dos and don’ts’ for staff members, such as ensuring nothing is said which could bring the company or its staff or brand into disrepute, or no offensive language is used. They will often make it clear a breach of the social media policy could result in disciplinary action with dismissal a possible outcome.

But Oliver warns that, where dismissal is a possible outcome, serious consideration should first be given to alternatives.

He said dismissal should not be the automatic response and each case will need to be considered having regard to its own individual facts including the employee’s position, knowledge and training on the policy, length of service and whether or not the brand of the employer was actually brought into disrepute or not.

This follows a high-profile case which saw a Sainsbury’s employee dismissed for gross misconduct following a Facebook post. The former worker took his case to an employment tribunal which decided he had been unfairly dismissed and awarded him compensation due to a failure to consider alternatives to dismissal, and because there was no evidence the employer’s brand had been brought into disrepute.

Oliver explained: “Looking at alternatives to dismissal is particularly important where a business is dealing with employees who have a substantial amount of service, especially those with excellent disciplinary records.

“Any decision to dismiss should be treated as the last resort after a fair and thorough process which should consider whether there are any viable alternatives.

“Employees should be made aware of a company’s policies and procedures when it comes to social media, and if possible, given training to make sure they know their responsibilities both on the employer’s social media platform and on their own personal social media accounts.

“The recent case showed that it is vital to carry out a proper investigation by properly trained staff, and that ‘damaging a brand’ through actions on social media may not be a good enough reason to dismiss someone.”