The Rise Of Social Media And The Impact On The Employment Relationship


The exponential growth of social media in recent years has changed the way employees network and share data, with positive and negative implications for the employer/employee relationship. Whilst social media presents employers and employees with a wealth of opportunities and benefits as a new communication channel, it also gives employees a forum enabling them to speak much more quickly and with greater impact, whether they are bad-mouthing their employers or making derogatory comments about colleagues.

So how can employers in a "socially-networked" world:

manage employees' use of social media sites (where use is excessive, inappropriate and/or leads to loss of productivity)? monitor employees' use of social networks without infringing their privacy? protect themselves against vicarious liability for employees' postings on social media sites? Employees' use of social media sites

Employees' use of social media sites may be inappropriate if, for example, their use of these sites during working hours is excessive and affecting productivity or because the content uploaded is inappropriate. Employers may be able to discipline (or even dismiss) employees in these circumstances, but the theme that emerges from the cases to date is the importance of the employer's response being proportionate and being based on clear guidelines.

The case of Taylor v Somerfield concerned the dismissal of an employee who had posted a video on YouTube which showed him and a colleague play-fighting with Somerfield plastic bags. He was dismissed for bringing the company into disrepute. The Tribunal found that the dismissal was unfair as there was no evidence that the video had brought the company into disrepute. The video had only been viewed 8 times, and 3 of those occasions were by the employee's managers who were investigating the matter. Put another way, the employer's response (dismissal) was disproportionate.

In contrast, the dismissal of a pub manager employee who had made inappropriate remarks on Facebook about two of the pub's customers was found to be fair (Preece v JD Wetherspoons). The comments had been made during the manager's working time and were in breach of Wetherspoons' policy which provided that Wetherspoons could take disciplinary action against an employee should an employee's postings on Facebook be found to lower the reputation of the organisation. In this case, the employer benefited from having a clear policy which it could point...

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