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