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The Dark Side of Social Media

Images of a smartly dressed Prince George circulated the internet and social media pages recently. The photos caused a lot of “oohing” and “ahhing” but there were also some negative comments.

One from a British Council director landed herself in hot water for targeting the prince on her social media page for being privileged, rich and living on ‘’public money’.

In response a spokeswoman for the British Council said “the comment was made on a private social media account. It has absolutely no connection to the British Council and does not represent our views and values. The British council have started disciplinary procedures with the individual.

The inaptly named PC Graham Wise from Cleveland Police's headquarters was dismissed after making a number of profoundly offensive tweets about celebrities. He admitted to posting some of the tweets during his lunch break in the staff canteen. The disciplinary panel was told that it was clear that PC Wise was a serving officer. One tweet referred to him having a role at HQ.

He claimed mitigating factors saying he had been ill when the tweets were posted. During the disciplinary hearing he said he thought only his 170 followers made up of family and friends could view his tweets. This is a common misconception. Most social media sites make it clear that they are public – the “you are what you tweet” philosophy. He was found guilty of gross misconduct and dismissed.

Individuals have the option to display their place of work on almost all of their social media pages. You may be keen for employees to promote your organisation’s brand on their page but not if they are making unwelcome posts or comments. A growing concern for employers is how to manage their employees’ social media use and the possible impact on their brand. There can be a misunderstanding of what is acceptable on social media between employers and employees. A few may see their page as platform for free speech and think they should be able to say what they want. Your approach should be to make it clear what conduct online is acceptable.

If employees are representing your company define what personal views they can convey. For example you may forbid the voicing of political views. Explain what defamation is and how employees can protect the company brand.

Make it clear that employees will face disciplinary action if they post any comments that might damage the company’s reputation. Employees should not represent themselves as being affiliated with the company when using social media for personal use.

If you decide to take disciplinary action in response to social media usage, follow your company disciplinary procedure and be proportionate. Consider the actual impact on business rather than supposed or feared impact. In 2006 Dixon Wilson dismissed Catherine Sanderson who blogged as La Petite Anglaise when she posted two photographs of herself on her blog. The blog didn’t mention the company by name and it would have been hard to identify it from Ms Sanderson’s postings.

The dismissal for bringing the company into disrepute was disproportionate and the subsequent publicity brought because the court agreed she had been unfairly dismissed caused the company far more embarrassment than the blog ever did!

Your social media policy should not infringe on employee’s rights but ensure you are protecting yourself. Make a distinction between business and private use of social media. If you do permit private use in the workplace, let your employees know if you intend to monitor their social postings or usage. This should be included in your policy.

We deal with the good, the bad and the ugly of HR. If you need help resolving problems with employees and damaging social media posts or any other HR issues, give us a call on 01908 262628.

If you need help getting HR problems resolved in your business, get in touch.

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