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Do you need to involve yourself in your employees' social network sites

Published 27 April 2012

The Industrial Tribunal in Northern Ireland recently considered whether an employer acted fairly in dismissing an employee who posted vulgar sexual comments about a female colleague on their Facebook page. The employer was named.

The Tribunal found that the dismissal was fair, on the grounds that the comments gave rise to harassment of a colleague, and warranted a breach of their dignity at work policy. The policy stated that harassment could occur outside work.

The Tribunal rejected the employee's argument that the comments were protected under the European Convention on Human Rights, in regard to the right to privacy, belief or freedom of expression.

Previous cases in this area have focussed upon the extent of an employer’s right to act against employees who make disparaging comments about the business on social networking sites. This case raises the more complex area of the extent to which employers are compelled to involve themselves in these matters, when they concern questions of harassment.

Many employers will recoil from the idea that they need to investigate grievances concerning postings on such sites outside work hours. However, it may be necessary to investigate, and in some cases act. Employers will want to ensure that they are addressing the appropriate matters, whilst avoiding a flood of internal grievances.

Such decisions can prove very difficult. It is necessary to consider the various rights of the alleged protagonist, including Human Rights concerning privacy and freedom of expression and belief, against the rights of the aggrieved employee. How an employer should act will depend not just on the comments made, but on the relative seniority of the individuals, past conduct, and how closely related the matter is to work.

(Teggart –v- TeleTech UK Limited)

We have developed a social media policy toolkit to assist employers in dealing with these matters. Please contact me for further details.

Mark McKeating
Associate
+44 (0) 161 817 7269
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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