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Employment Solicitor Offers Advice on The Dangers of Social Media

By Principal Lawyer, Employment

Most people will, I suspect, have had little sympathy for the Wandsworth Prison officer sacked and others that faced disciplinary action after photos of them wearing T-shirts saying ‘We Have Madeleine McCann’ during a drunken night out were posted on Facebook. It was a story that provokes a visceral response of incomprehension and repulsion, but that obscures a far more subtle point which concerns the rights and wrongs of action against employees where they have done something wrong in their private lives or online explains Employment Solicitor Ivor Adair.......

I sometimes wonder if Don Draper from Mad Men (if you don’t know the show, most of his colleagues know little about him or his private lifestyle), lived and worked in 2014 could ever have been the subject of the remark, "No one’s ever lifted that rock. He could be Batman for all we know." I doubt it.

TOWIE suggests that there are more than a few UK employees who have degraded themselves in some drunken act whilst on holiday with friends. Should every employer be free to dismiss or discipline when it discovers through social media that an employee has done something wrong outside work? Of course not and the law recognises that – but there is a balance to be struck between having a private life (assuming there is an expectation of privacy) and a justified inference with that.

For example, a Facebook rant about your employer can easily come to the attention of HR. If that happens, expect swift action and to be told you have no expectation of privacy just because you have set your Facebook page to “private”, as you still have no control over how your comments may be passed on. However all is not lost. A good starting point is to check if what you have done is prohibited by your employer’s social media policy. If the posts were mild and there are mitigating factors, for example where you have an exemplary record and immediately apologised in writing, it may well be unfair to sack you and you should take advice.

You may also want to think about NOT doing any of the following:

  • Uploading dubious holiday photos.
  • Complaining about your colleagues, customers or your boss.
  • Commenting on your employer’s services or produces.
  • Making friends on-line with a manager.
  • Revealing confidential information.

In my experience the employer will tend to overstate the reputational concerns in play and very often there are arguments to be had and potentially claims, but for many people its time to get real about their lives outside work and the impact it can have on their employment.