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Implications of social networking for Employers

Facebook, Linked In, Twitter and other social networking sites have all recently and quickly become part of both our personal and business life. Whilst Facebook and Twitter started as social ‘non work’ sites, employers are now commonly using these web based tools to generate business, advertise jobs and maintain relationships with clients and contacts. With the increasing blurring of what is personal and work related and formal and informal comes a greater risk to businesses who want to ensure that employees do not misuse these websites and send or post information which could be damaging to their employer or others they work with.

A recent employment tribunal decision in a case called Gosden v Lifeline Project Ltd (ET/2802731/2009) suggests that comments or emails made by an employee, outside of working hours, on their own PC via social networking sites, can be regarded as gross misconduct if they have the potential to damage their employer’s reputation and integrity.

In this case an employee, outside of working hours, sent an email from his home computer to an employee of a client company of the employer. The email contained racist and sexist material. The employee at the client company then forwarded the email to other employees at the client company. The Employment Tribunal rejected the claim of unfair dismissal raised by the employee who sent the original email and agreed that the employer was entitled to dismiss the employee for gross misconduct. They decided that the decision to dismiss the employee was within the range of reasonable responses.

Whilst the content of the message in this case was quite extreme, this case highlights the importance for employers to ensure that their policies are up to date and include clear messages which protect their business and clearly state the potential sanctions to employees of misuses of social networking sites both in and out of working hours. Employer’s should ensure that Equal Opportunities, Harassment, Monitoring, IT and Disciplinary policies are fit for purpose and kept up to date to deal with changes in technology and in the way we communicate.

Date: 14.03.11

For more information on social networking in the workplace please contact Jane Sinnamon (jane.sinnamon@collingwoodlegal.com).

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