Dealing with any work-related social media fallout following the funeral of the Queen
Published 20 September 2022
The death of Queen Elizabeth II has seen an outpouring of emotion but not all of it has been positive, which could create a problem for some employers.
Millions have mourned the passing of the UK's longest-serving monarch who died at the age of 96.
Prior to the funeral there were huge queues along the banks of the River Thames, where people waited to pay their respects to the Queen lying-in-State at the Palace of Westminster [1 cited 20.9.22]
Her Majesty’s funeral took place on Monday, 19 September. Five hundred heads of state and foreign dignitaries attended the event at Westminster Abbey. [2 cited 20.9.22]
While many wanted to pay their respects, some have taken the opportunity to voice their objection to the Royal Family online.
And if one of those individuals is one of your employees, how you deal with them, or even if you do deal with them, can be a dilemma.
People from all occupations including journalists and public figures have seen their careers put at risk after expressing differing views about the monarch.
Former footballer Trevor Sinclair was suspended by the radio station talkSPORT, which is investigating a ‘disgusting’ tweet he is said to have posted after Buckingham Palace announced the death of the Queen [3 cited 20.9.22]
In the US there were calls for Uju Anya, professor at Carnegie Mellon University, to be sacked after she tweeted that she hoped the Queen had an ‘excruciating’ death [4 cited 20.9.22]
At the time of writing the university had not suspended the professor or said it would investigate her comments.
Online comments considered controversial or offensive about the Royal Family, or any individual for that matter, can provide evidence to be used in a disciplinary investigation [5 cited 20.9.22]
So, if as an employer you are faced with having to deal with such a situation, what should you do?
Every insult or unpleasant comment posted online will not automatically be an act of gross misconduct worthy of dismissal.
Finding the correct balance between what is, and what is not, acceptable social media conduct is not always easy.
Employment law does tell us an employee can be fairly dismissed for objectionable online conduct outside of work.
Most fundamental in such cases, is whether the employee’s behaviour affects the employment relationship, their ability to do the job, or whether it damages the employer’s reputation.
A social media post can be deemed as an act of misconduct. In some circumstances it will be appropriate to take disciplinary action.
If you do so, it is vital that you conduct a thorough and fair investigation and capture and carefully consider any evidence available as soon as possible.
ACAS has advised that social media misconduct should be dealt with in the same way as ‘normal, misconduct [6 cited 20.9.22]
If you find it necessary to investigate an employee, give them a reasonable opportunity to explain their actions and any mitigating factors
You must consider the content of the post, the impact of it and if the individual is fully aware of, or should reasonably be aware of, your expectations in relation to their online conduct.
A clearly worded social media policy should detail expected standards of online behaviour. It should also make clear any breach of policy could lead to disciplinary action.
You must reasonably assess if an online post is genuinely capable of affecting the work of the employee or the reputation of your organisation.
Significant in this will be, is there anything that links the employee’s behaviour to their job e.g. does their profile explicitly detail for whom they work or has someone viewed the post and complained to you.
Dismissal may not always be a reasonable response, and alternative sanctions should always be considered.
To deal with social media posts or comments made online, you should always follow a fair disciplinary procedure in exactly the same way you would with any other workplace issue.