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When can Businesses Sack Staff for Social Media Posts?


You’re sure to be aware of the furore surrounding Danny Baker: his tweet linking a chimpanzee to the first British royal baby of mixed race, and his subsequent sacking from the BBC. It was headline news across the nation, but it’s also HR news and poses an interesting question: When can you sack someone for something they do outside of work? Caryl Thomas from The HR Dept Cardiff dissects the issue.

Caryl begins:

“Something which we say in poor taste or judgement in our private lives does not remain private if we say it on social media. And you don’t need to have 500K Twitter followers like Danny Baker for an employer to become aware of it. So then what?

“Despite the swiftness of Danny Baker’s dismissal, sacking for gross misconduct will not always be the inevitable outcome. Legally, a company will need to demonstrate that the actions impair other employees’ ability to do their jobs. This could be by damaging relationships with colleagues, or other stakeholders like suppliers or customers. Or by bringing the company into disrepute.”

A social media policy should be considered a must-have in today’s HR armoury. It will describe in detail what employees can and cannot do. And it will give you the framework to deal with any wrongdoing. But it’s not sufficient to just have a social media policy. You’ll need to distribute it and demonstrate that all staff have seen it for it to be effective.

Caryl continues:

“Your social media policy should explain what is and isn’t acceptable, perhaps using examples, and what the consequences are. It should hold senior or public-facing staff to a higher standard and prevent all staff from identifying your business in their personal online activity.

Providing training and obtaining signed receipts of the policy are good tactics for demonstrably ensuring it has been understood. Tribunal cases have gone both ways, so seek professional advice if you are unsure.