LEGAL CLINIC: Don’t Get Sacked Over Social Media
If you are on social media, then you may be aware of the controversy surrounding Facebook’s new ‘authenticity’ policy, which requires users to use their legal identity rather than a pseudonym.
This policy has been met with resistance from LGBT groups who are concerned they may be ‘outed’ to any member of the public. Further, it means employers, clients and customers can see what you did this weekend.
Zee Hussain, Employment Partner at Colemans-ctts (a trading style of Simpson Millar), provides an overview of your rights and provides guidance to ensure your professional and private lives remain separate.
Be aware of how to manage your settings.
On most social media platforms, you can choose what information can be displayed to the public, which extends to photographs, status updates and personal information. Facebook will allow you to put friends into groups with differing levels of privacy. Check the privacy policies concerned and adjust accordingly.
Know your own rights.
Whilst it is not unlawful for employers to search your social media profile, it is unlawful for them to discriminate against you due to a protected characteristic, such as your sexuality, gender, race, religion or disability. Therefore, if it is clear from your profile that you have a same-sex partner and the employer uses this as a reason to reject your job application, then this may mean you can make a claim under the Equality Act 2010.
Employers that conduct searches can use external agencies to ensure they do not fall foul of the law. You are entitled to request a copy of any information that may be held on you under the Data Protection Act 1996.
Make sure you know your employers social media policy.
Different employers have a different approach to social media. Some will allow you to access your social media during worktime, some won’t. There may well be guidelines you are expected to follow to ensure your employers, and your own reputation, remain in tact.
Don’t name and shame your clients.
In the case of Preece –v- JS Wetherspoons, Ms Preece was a manager of a pub and had to bar an elderly and abusive couple one evening. She then went onto name and shame the couple and their antics to her Facebook friends, which unfortunately included the couple’s daughter. The tribunal found that the employer was justified in dismissing Ms Preece despite her many years of service.
Watch your (virtual) mouth.
Even years later, ranting on about how unreasonable your boss has been, how you are sick of your job, or even that you are hungover at work can come back to haunt you. In British Waterways Board v Smith, Mr Smith had posted numerous status updates which made derogatory comments about his work and indicated he had been enjoying a cheeky beer whilst on standby. Whilst there were no immediate consequences, Mr Smith was dismissed following an investigation some two years later.
Unwanted conduct = harassment.
Adding colleagues to your social media network is becoming the norm, and the office is increasingly a place where romantic partners meet. However, flirty text messages and risqué snapchat messages are not always welcome. Likewise, those off-colour jokes don’t sit well with everyone.
Harassment is where unwanted conduct, whether of a sexual nature or related to a protected characteristic, creates a working environment that that is offensive, hostile, humiliating or intimidating to work in. Therefore, your employer can take disciplinary action against you (or a colleague) in this situation. If you are receiving messages from a colleague, then do turn to your employer for help if you are made to feel uncomfortable.
Don’t be this girl.
A few years ago a facebook post from a girl known as Lindsay went viral for all the wrong reasons. Lindsay had posted a status which said,
“My boss is a total pervvy *****, always making me do **** stuff to **** me off!”
Her boss got the final word by replying directly to the status:
“Firstly, don’t flatter yourself. Secondly, you’ve worked here 5 months and didn’t you work out that I’m gay? Thirdly, that ‘**** stuff’ is called your ‘job’, you know, what I pay you to do. But the fact that you seem to be able to **** up the simplest of tasks might contribute to how you feel about it.
“And lastly, you also seem to have forgotten that you have 2 weeks left on your 6 month trial period. Don’t bother coming in tomorrow.
“I’ll pop your P45 in the post and you can come in whenever you like to pick up any stuff you’ve left here. And yes, I’m serious.”
If there is one thing that will have hurt Lindsay more than receiving her P45, is the fact that the whole world seemed to enjoy her boss getting his own back.
Social Media is a public forum, and in the click of a button, a comment or picture can be shared with thousands of users. We would recommend acting accordingly.
It remains to be said that using social media as a means of communicating is clearly now a way of life. Posting messages may now be almost second nature, however, by remaining vigilant and attentive when using social media well certainly help avoid any difficult situations especially when it comes to work.
Check out our free online legal clinic – where you can also ask questions from our expert legal team.
by Zee Hussain