By Katee Dias,
You only need to look at the celebrity world to find some very recent examples where an individual has lost their job and damaged their reputation by making a thoughtless social media post.
Danny Baker tweeted a picture of a chimpanzee and made reference to the royal baby. This was interpreted as a racial slur and he was quickly dismissed by the BBC. The sportsman Israel Folau made negative comments on Twitter regarding homosexuality and subsequently lost his Rugby Australia contract. The Emmerdale actress Shila Iqbal lost her job when tweets containing racist language that she had made years ago emerged. The list could go on.
Misuse of social media by employees is a very real issue and, as the use of social media is only set to continue both employers and PR professionals should take the matter seriously. It is possible for employers to take some quite simple but effective steps to better protect themselves. These include:
1: Introduce a social media policy. This should set out the do’s and don’ts that employees should follow. It should cover not only postings made about or on behalf of the business but also their own personal use of social media and how this can impact on their employer’s reputation.
2: Train your people. It is no good having a policy if your employees do not know about it. Training is key to ensure that individuals understand what they can and can’t do and the possible repercussions if they breach the rules.
3: Make sure your policy stays up to date. Social media usage develops all the time so employers need to ensure that they refresh their social media policies to ensure its contents remain relevant and comprehensive.
4: Monitor content. Employers may want to ensure they have the right to monitor social media accounts. This might need consent from the individual so consider including such permissions in your contractual terms, such as the employment contract.
These steps can help stop confidential information being inadvertently disclosed on LinkedIn, offensive comments being made on Twitter, horseplay in company uniform appearing on YouTube, colleagues being bullied via Facebook and compromising images circulating on Instagram; all of which can result in a PR disaster for the business.
Another risk area for employers to consider is when they dismiss an employee for social media misuse. If that employee has over two year’s service, they are protected from being unfairly dismissed. Therefore an employer needs to ensure that they have both a fair reason for the dismissal and follow a fair dismissal process.
If they do not, they may find themselves facing an Employment Tribunal claim. This legal dispute would be played out in the public courts; again risking reputational damage for the employer.
Social media can have many positive benefits for employers and can be a great tool for PR. However, safeguards should be put into place to protect the employer from the possible downsides, otherwise the PR professional may well find themselves facing a PR nightmare.
Katee Dias is a senior associate in the employment team at Goodman Derrick, the London law firm.