Social Media – Friend or Foe?Posted in : HR Updates on 1 February 2018
From my employee relations background and some high-level cases at Tribunal, social media is now becoming a minefield in employee relations with higher percentages of dismissal cases being associated with this every year. These cases are often complex and require a detailed and analytical approach to ensure the allegation reflects all aspects of the case and are realistic upon their breakdown. It is important to know exactly how to deal with these incidents to ensure a smooth case progression.
Social media obviously has great benefits - it can allow managers and colleagues to chat through ideas, share shift patterns, communicate key business messages and create a harmonious working environment bringing together all colleagues together in one place no matter what their hours or contract type. It can also boost job applications through alternative platforms of application, coupled with potential applicants using sites such as Glassdoor to understand how your business operates with the main pros and cons being displayed by current or ex-employees.
However, it is the negative use of social media that invokes the use of the disciplinary procedure. The social media pathway has seen new types of cases being brought into the workplace from revenge porn cases, inappropriate screenshots (usually pornographic) being sent to or between work colleagues, inappropriate and/or potential harassing comments being made on work-based Whatsapp groups to potential reputational damage cases.
So how do you prepare for these cases arising in your workplace?
Understanding your Business
- Do you know the types and uses of social media in your workplace or by your colleagues?
- What is the current status of your social media policy colleague sign-off? – Is this a standard process at induction to ensure colleagues are aware?
- Has your disciplinary policy/handbook been updated or altered as a potential example of gross misconduct?
- Do you often run update training with reference to the use of social media in or regarding the workplace?
- Have you updated your policy to counteract any previous weaknesses/disparities in recent cases?
- Have all recommendations following on from previous complaints been completed to prevent reoccurrence?
If your answer to any of the above questions is no, don’t panic. The key is to be proactive to the ever-changing needs of employee relations.
Whitham v Club 24 t/a Ventura ET/18/0462/10 teaches us if a negative comment is made against the employer, the employer has to be careful around the potential consequences regarding this. In this case, the colleague posted a comment on their Facebook, on a private page, stating ‘I think I work in a nursery and I do not mean working with plants’. The company immediately suspended, upon discovery of this and followed through with the correct disciplinary procedures. Mrs Whitham, the former employee was then dismissed for gross misconduct on the grounds that her comments could have damaged the relationship between the company and its customer and also because of a breach of confidence.
The Tribunal ruled the dismissal to be harsh and unfair based on the fact the damage in the relationship could not be proven as the company could not substantiate how its parent company would be affected. Without the use of this in the allegation, the case could have had a different outcome. The company had potential grounds but had the case had some further support, it could have prevented the escalation of this case. The tribunal also stated that as Mrs Whitham was a Team Leader a potential demotion would have been a more reasonable response due to the nature of the comments.
The Company couldn’t produce evidence of a signed social media policy, and this did not help in their defence.
It is for reasons like above that HR support and guidance is required to deal with these new cases to ensure each one has a firm and detailed analysis.
Related: Checklist on Social Media in the Workplace by Lisa Bryson.
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