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Tweeting your way to dismissal – social media in the workplace

Posted on 7th February 2017

The case of Creighton v Together Housing Association Ltd [2016] highlights the potential risks posed to employers by their employees’ behaviour on social media.

Mr Creighton, an engineer who had nearly 30 years’ service working for a housing association, was dismissed when his employer discovered comments that he had posted on his Twitter account three years previously. Mr Creighton had made a series of offensive comments regarding his employer and certain colleagues. One such tweet read “just carry on and pick up your wage, this place is f***ed. It’s full of absolute bell**ds who aint got any balls”. Mr Creighton’s employer dismissed him on the basis that their disciplinary policy stated defaming the organisation or damaging its reputation by use of social media amounted to gross misconduct.

Mr Creighton brought a claim in the employment tribunal for unfair dismissal and argued that he was unfairly dismissed as he had thought his tweets were private and they were posted years ago. The employment tribunal did not find in his favour and accepted that the dismissal was within the range of reasonable responses open to his employer given the circumstances. The tribunal was clear on the fact that it was irrelevant whether the tweets were years old. The Judge stressed that the comments were visible to anyone and, once in the public domain, would be there forever.

A tweet too far?

The above case identifies that even the most historic of social media postings will still be relevant when it comes to questioning an employee’s conduct. This makes sense. Twitter tweets can be retweeted and Facebook posts can be shared years after the original comment was made. The time lag in-between becomes irrelevant. That comment still impacts on the employer in the same way in terms of bad publicity, arguably more so as there is likely to be a wider audience of “friends” and “followers” who will now see the comments as time goes on.

Practical steps

Employers

  • Ensure that you have a clear social media policy outlining what you consider to be gross misconduct;
  • Regularly remind employees of your expectations regarding their social media activity, referring if possible to a social media policy;
  • Should you come across a negative social media comment by one of your employees, investigate the matter properly, seeking legal advice where necessary, prior to coming to any decisions;
  • Ensure that any decisions you do make are well documented with clear reasons for your decision.

Employees

  • Prior to posting anything on social media, be it a comment about your employer or a photo of a night out, consider what effect it could potentially have on your employment if your boss were to see it;
  • Do not think just because your account has the highest privacy settings this means only your “friends” or “followers” can see your comments;
  • Just because a comment was written some time ago, do not assume that it is now in the past and cannot be used by your employer;
  • Remember that if a comment or photo is out there on social media, potentially anyone can see it and reuse it.

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