Ashtons Legal: How to handle an employee making trouble on social media

Lucy Pakes of Ashtons Legal. Picture: Dave Richardson.

Lucy Pakes of Ashtons Legal. Picture: Dave Richardson. - Credit: Archant

We've all heard stories regarding employees making derogatory comments about their employer via social media and risking the employer's reputation as a result. But what if one of your own employees is posting negative feedback about your organisation? Lucy Pakes of Ashtons Legal explains.

We've all heard stories regarding employees making derogatory comments about their employer via social media and risking the employer's reputation as a result.

So, what do you do if one of your own employees is posting negative feedback about your organisation on Facebook or Twitter, for example?

The first step is to undertake an investigation into any allegation of this sort and establish the facts before moving to any kind of formal action.

Often it is a colleague who blows the whistle, and employers can be nervous of using the information in a disciplinary context.


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However, if evidence of the negative comments has been obtained lawfully eg. by the whistle-blower giving permission for the employer to view their social media account, then it is fine to use the evidence in a disciplinary hearing.

In some recent tribunal cases, where disgruntled employees have badmouthed their employer on social media, the courts have been willing to uphold dismissals, subject to a number of conditions:

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1. The employers had a social media policy in place, communicated to all employees;

2. The policies gave examples of what would be regarded as unacceptable conduct on social media;

3. The policies included a warning that employees should not assume their social media activity was private;

4. The policies stated explicitly that a breach of the policy could result in disciplinary action and potential dismissal;

5. The employers followed a fair procedure when investigating the allegations and holding disciplinary hearings.

The most important advice to employers is to check your existing HR policies and procedures and make sure they give you the cover you require.

Social media can however, be a useful tool from the point of view of recruitment and employee engagement.

For example, targeted groups on LinkedIn and Facebook can help promote the employer's brand to potential new employees and enable new joiners to network before meeting face-to-face on their first day. This approach can be particularly suitable for graduate intakes or apprentices.

The message is clear: social media is here to stay so employers need to work with it and help shape it, rather than avoiding it.

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