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Social media in the workplace

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Two recent cases concerning the use of social media by employees highlight the importance for employers of having a clear policy on the use of such public forums by their employees.

The High Court has held that a Christian employee was entitled to express his views about gay marriage on Facebook and that doing so did not constitute misconduct. This decision affirms an employee's right to privacy, viewing Facebook as a social and personal medium, unless the context suggests otherwise. According to the court, it was clear from the employee's Facebook page that he was not using it for work-related purposes, despite the fact that 45 of his Facebook friends were colleagues.

An EAT decision highlights the scope for comments made on social media to form part of a continuing act for discrimination purposes. The claimant in this case (who is American and has a disability) was a manager at a mobile phone store. He fell down the stairs at work and has been absent from work ever since. A number of colleagues made fun of the claimant's accident on Facebook and, as a result of the comments, he brought claims for disability and race discrimination. In general, office banter has an immediacy which means that those participating will tend not to return to the original joke long after the event, whereas the nature of social media sites invites continual comment and dialogue.

This checklist highlights the risks that a business and its employees should be aware of when using the internet and e-mail at work, sending work-related emails or discussing the workplace on the internet. 

This article was provided by PLC Briefing Newsletter November 2012.