Anti-Social Behaviour on Social Networks

The rise in popularity of social networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn has brought with it many potential benefits for employers and employees; from allowing us to stay in touch with old colleagues, to building up potential contacts and customers. However, what we do on-line can have negative repercussions, especially on the employer/employee relationship.

The main problem is not so much the length of time employees spend on social networking sites, but what they are posting on those sites. If employees write negative or critical comments about their employers on social networking sites, this can damage not only the relationship with that employee, but may have far reaching implications for the business, and may lead to a public relations battle. Indeed, in 2006 the Trades Union Congress dubbed Facebook's then 3.5 million users "HR accidents waiting to happen." So how can you reduce the risk of this happening, and what can you do if it does?

As this is a relatively recent problem, most of the incidents to date have not gone as far as an employment tribunal or a court room. However, there have been some well publicised instances, and in this article we will look at some real life examples and draw conclusions from these.

Bringing the Business in Disrepute

In instances where a business has suffered negative PR due to their employees' online postings, they have sought to rely on the "bringing the business into disrepute" clauses in their disciplinary policies or employment contracts to cover online misconduct. However, the employer has to prove that the business has actually suffered some damage to reputation in order to rely on it. In the case of Taylor v Somerfield (Unreported 24 July 2007, Aberdeen Employment Tribunal), an employee was dismissed after posting a video on YouTube of himself hitting a colleague with a plastic bag stuffed with other plastic bags whilst at the warehouse of his employer and whilst wearing his work uniform. The video was unclear and did not specifically mention the employer. The employee removed the video from YouTube after just three days, and it was only viewed eight times in that period, three of which were by his managers. The tribunal held that the dismissal was unfair because the company could not show that it had suffered any damage to its reputation, particularly in light of the very low number of viewings of the video. It was also discussed that the actions depicted in the video were not likely to cause...

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