FAQs

Social Media and the Workplace

Your employer may well be monitoring your social media accounts

Before reading these Frequently Asked Questions, please take a look at the legal disclaimer at the foot of this page.

Background

Members often contact us with queries arising from their use of social media. They are concerned that putting political and moral opinions online, negative views about an employer, or even jokes, seem increasingly to be subject to disciplinary measures. This is clearly an area of much confusion, where the boundaries between working life and personal life – between the public and private domains – are often blurred.

Comments made outside of work on social media can be a potentially fair reason to dismiss an employee. In most cases, a dismissal will be fair in law if the employee’s comments are found to have violated the employer’s rules of conduct or brought the employer into disrepute.

Misconduct and disrepute are broad terms and encompass an unpredictable range of circumstances. In our experience, while the Equality Act 2010 will not usually apply to social media use outside of work, employers will often define misconduct or disrepute with reference to the language and spirit of that Act – i.e., discrimination or harassment relating to ‘protected characteristics’.

Internal rules governing workplace and personal conduct are sometimes made very clear in company policies. However, the degree of detail and the extent of restrictions vary a great deal between workplaces and can be unclear. Social media policies are not always read by employees, but very serious issues can arise, for example where breaches of them are used as leverage by an employer to get rid of someone whom they simply no longer wish to employ.

Some of the most common types of problems reported to us could possibly be avoided if social media policies were clearer and better disseminated, or if the individuals concerned took some precautionary measures to clarify the line between their personal views and their professional profile. We give tips on this below. However, it is important to recognise that law and practice when it comes to social media are still evolving and expert legal advice may be well necessary if problems occur.

Anti-Racism and Unconscious Bias Training

US Soccer player Rachel Hill declines to take the knee on the eve of a football game between the Chicago Red Stars and Washington Spirit on 28th June 2020.

Before reading these Frequently Asked Questions, please take a look at the legal disclaimer at the foot of this page.

Background

Here at the Free Speech Union we are receiving a growing number of queries about workplace “anti-racism” initiatives. Some people are unhappy with certain training programmes being implemented in the name of “anti-racism” or tackling “bias”. Others have been asked to express their support for the Black Lives Matter movement by their employer or their colleagues.

These individuals are concerned for a number of reasons. Some of them think the training programmes are based on dubious theories – such as Critical Race Theory – that ascribe collective guilt to white people about the slave trade and colonialism and ignore the progress that has been made in race relations in Britain over the past 50 years. Some have reviewed the evidence and found that diversity training can in certain circumstances make people more discriminatory, not less. Some worry that the premise of these programmes is that bias or prejudice is the sole cause of unequal outcomes between different groups, when they believe there are multiple causes of these discrepancies, of which unconscious bias is only one. Finally, some fear that they and their colleagues will feel forced into potentially divisive identity boxes as part of the training they’re being asked to do and there’s a risk their workplace may become “racialised” as a consequence.

These are all perfectly legitimate points of view, but many people are worried that if they voice these concerns – or ask to opt out of the training – then their job, career progression, reputation and workplace relationships will be at risk.

This set of FAQs offers information if you are dealing with such a situation in your workplace. We will be developing these FAQs in the coming weeks and months to address the evolving issues raised by our members.

We recommend that you join the Free Speech Union (FSU) before raising these issues with your employer. The FSU supports people in their right to freedom of expression and belief. We offer advice and advocacy for people who want to participate in these debates in an open, evidence-based way and may take up your case if you face penalties for exercising your lawful right to free speech. Sign up before you do anything else!

We did a good deal of research in the course of compiling this first set of FAQs, and one of the people who helped with that research, a journalist called Carrie Clark, has written up her findings in the form of a briefing paper. Carrie looked specifically at the Implicit Association Test, a diagnostic tool that sits at the heart of most forms of diversity training. It’s worth reading in full, but the short version is that this test has been almost completely discredited in the scientific literature since it was first devised in 1998. You can read a summary of Carrie’s paper here.