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Employment Lawyer Marsha Thompson on the perils of social media in employment

By Associate, Employment

Picture this: An employee rings in sick after a night out drinking with friends but forgets that she has work colleagues as friends on Facebook. Her colleagues see her photos then tell her boss. Oh dear – she’s in trouble now…  Sound familiar? We have certainly seen a rise in these sorts of cases over recent years. So…. where does your personal life end and your professional life begin? Do we really need to vent every waking thought and post every photo taken onto social sites?

Most of us will be members of social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and Linked In. Many of us will also have work colleagues as “friends” or “followers”. This sort of problem only arises when those lines get blurred. If you divulge too much information about too much of your private life, this could impact upon your professional life.

Under anti-discrimination laws, it is not just the individuals who harass colleagues that are legally responsible. Employers can also be sued for Discrimination by their staff, which can be costly and damaging to an employer’s reputation.

Comments on these sites can come back to haunt you. If the comments amount to misconduct, for example, being offensive or Bullying towards other staff, or bring the company into disrepute, you could be disciplined or face Dismissal. If the misconduct is particularly serious, it may be difficult to challenge a dismissal if your employer followed a fair dismissal process and the decision to dismiss was a reasonable one in the circumstances. 

Having said that, a knee-jerk reaction from your employer to discipline or dismiss when it really wasn’t that serious, is open to challenge. If you find yourself receiving a disciplinary letter, do take advice. There have been a number of social media dismissal cases now, which can help to guide you on what points to make in your defence.

What is the moral of this story? Well, before telling the cyber world what’s on your mind you need to think about the wider impact of those comments and whether they could have a damaging impact on you, your career prospects or your employer. If in doubt, leave it out!

For specialist employment law advice, contact Marsha Thompson or our Employment team on 0800 916 9060.