Social Media Usage and Employment Law
By Max Wootton
The rise of social media has undoubtedly revolutionised society. As more of our work and home affairs are conducted online, and with the ability to access data from work at any time, the line between personal and work is increasingly blurred.
This in turn presents different challenges for employees and employers. Employees may be confused regarding what is acceptable and not acceptable on social media. Whilst in this changing landscape, employers may need to take steps to protect their business.
Our employment team is available to provide some much needed guidance on this difficult issue for employers and employees.
Expressing Opinions Online
Expressing opinions online is an extremely grey area. An employee is allowed to say what they want, so long as they are not breaking the law when doing so. Its best to adopt an approach of not posting anything online that could possibly be construed as being detrimental to your employer or a fellow employee.
Posting Content Damaging to an Employer
It is possible under the law to be dismissed fairly for content posted on social media that can be construed as damaging. This is especially true if what has been posted is classed as defamation, where you could be subject to legal proceedings potentially resulting in a financial penalty.
Advice to Employees
The main advice to employees is to use a common-sense approach. Check your contract of employment or your employee handbook, which should contain policies pertaining to social media usage.
Freedom of Speech and Employee Rights
The Human Rights Act, 1998 affords individuals “the right to freedom of expression.” However, that can be qualified by “necessary” restrictions prescribed by law. Restrictions will be contained in an employment contract or a company handbook so make sure you are familiar with those sections.
Protecting Your Business as an Employer
There are three main ways an employer can best protect a business from damaging social media. The first is policies, employers must make it clear what online conduct is acceptable and what is not. This will be done through contracts of employment and other contractual policies. Employers must be clear when employees will be seen as representing the employer.
The second way is training, employers should ensure that their employees know what is acceptable and unacceptable on social media. Training can be conducted through webinars, sending employees on courses, or outsourcing to a private company.
Finally, employers should engage their employees and provide them channels to provide feedback anonymously. Research has shown these provisions allow employees to share their thoughts in a constructive way, rather than posting on social media harmful content about an employer’s business.
How we can help
If you would like some advice on this issue, either as an employer or an employee, contact our employment team directly via:
Telephone: 0333 231 6405