I've broken my company's social media policy - Paul Doran Law

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I’ve broken my company’s social media policy

Social media policyYou might be used to sharing your opinions online. You might think it’s natural to want to check your personal emails or social media during working hours. But your employer might not allow that, and you could be putting your job at risk.

You have to be careful what you say, write and publish online. Online trolling and cyber-bullying are criminal offences, for which there are serious consequences. If you criticise a person’s actions or character, and your comments adversely affect their reputation, it could be classed as defamation. And, if you share personal information about a colleague online, it could be an invasion of their privacy.

If you do get sacked, you might be able to claim for unfair dismissal. Here are some stories about people who did just that, mixed in with our advice.

Beware of accessing the company internet for personal use…

Your employer should have a policy that sets out exactly what you can and can’t do at work. For example, they might allow you to check your social media or browse the internet for personal use up to a defined time limit each day, or they might ban personal internet access completely during working hours.

If you’re found accessing the internet at work for personal matters outside any allowed times, your employer is likely to discipline you. It might even lead to your dismissal.

Gloucester City Council sacked two employees for excessive personal internet use. The informal policy was that it was “OK outside core working hours”. In the past, other employees had done the same thing and got away with it. The pair therefore claimed unfair dismissal – and won.

Be careful what you write about your employer online…

If you post negative comments on your social media about your employer, and your updates are considered to damage your employer’s reputation, or they affect the employment relationship, or they impact your ability to do the job, it could be considered gross misconduct – this means that you’d lose your job immediately, without working your notice period.

Ms Whitham worked at Club 24 Ltd. She was sacked because she made derogatory comments about her workplace on Facebook. However, the comments were relatively minor, made outside working hours, key client relationships weren’t affected, and she had an exemplary employment record, so she won her case for unfair dismissal.

Don’t send inappropriate emails…

Equality laws govern harassment and discrimination, so your employer is likely to have a policy stating that inappropriate messages should not be sent at work.

Ms Mason worked for CXC Advantage Ltd. Using her personal email address, she sent ‘saucy’ messages to an employee at one of the company’s clients. The client’s manager discovered the messages and decided to stop dealing with her employer, so she was sacked. She lost her unfair dismissal case because inappropriate emailing was explicitly forbidden in the staff handbook, and her behaviour had cost the company business.

Don’t look at or share porn at work…

Your employer’s policy should also state that offensive jokes and images should not be sent at work.

Ms Goudie worked at the Royal Bank of Scotland. She lost her job because she sent pornographic images at work. She won her case for unfair dismissal (and won a subsequent appeal), because her employer hadn’t shown her the policy that explained what would be considered offensive.

Don’t download unauthorised software…

Unauthorised software might contain viruses or spyware that would have serious consequences for the business computer systems. That’s why your staff handbook will probably say downloading any unauthorised software counts as serious misconduct.

Mr Fettes worked for Dundee Cold Stores Ltd. He was sacked for playing computer games during working hours. He tried to argue that someone else had downloaded the games, but the evidence he gave failed to convince the tribunal that was the case, and so he lost his claim for unfair dismissal.

What this means to you…

Your employer should have a comprehensive policy that spells out exactly what you can and can’t do at work with regard to emails, social media, internet usage, and smartphones. It should also make clear what you can and can’t say about the company and your colleagues, clients and other business contacts.

If you are caught breaking the rules, your employer must treat you fairly. If other employees do the same as you without being disciplined, but you get punished for the same thing, it’s likely to be unfair and you may have a case. What’s more, your employer must follow a fair process when they dismiss you. If they don’t, you have a better chance of winning.

If you find yourself in this situation, give us a call. We‘ll be happy to help.

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