A recent case reported by the media highlights the story of a care worker who was dismissed from her job for a Facebook post regarding a karaoke night held at her place of work. Her employer stated that the post breached its policy on the use of social media as it included a picture of a resident (who was a vulnerable adult) taking part in the event. The person’s family later said they had no objection to their relative’s picture being used, and there was no suggestion of any other wrong doing or inappropriate content being displayed. After a 20 month long employment tribunal case the employee won her claim for unfair dismissal on a procedural ground. Crucially however, the tribunal found that the alternative sanction, demotion, would have been reasonable, highlighting that sanctioning the conduct itself was not excessive.
The case highlights that even the most innocent use of social media with regards to the work environment can have potential consequences. These may be to protect the confidential nature of the work, for example in the law, because the sector involves working with vulnerable people, such as in care homes, or simply preserving the reputation of the business.
Most employers will now have a dedicated social media policy spelling out the acceptable use of social media by employees and will often include a statement that the employer will not regulate an employee’s private use of social media, unless the posting has a negative impact on the business or its reputation.
Of course, the safest way to avoid any issues with social media and work is to assume anything put on social media is public, and can be read by anyone. Even with maximum privacy controls, much of your content could still be accessed by people connected with your employer, for example, they may be mutual friends with an ex-colleague. By exercising restraint on social media in this way, it can continue to be used appropriately and safely without harming your employer’s business interests and your career.