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Blog  »  March 2016  »  Social Media (part 3)- Discipline/Dismissals - Blog
Mar 16

Posted by
Jennie Hussey

Social Media (part 3)- Discipline/Dismissals

There are a wide variety of situations whereby employee behaviour on-line can give rise to disquiet in the workplace. Poorly managed social media use can result in disputes can include:

  • Excessive use of social media platforms during working hours, whether on work or personal devices
  • Comments, photographs, or videos posted online which could cause irrefutable reputational damage to a business 
  • Behaviour that could be considered as cyber-bulling or harassment, particularly if activity discriminates against a protected characteristic such as religion, race, gender or age. 

All of the above can have a significant effect on a business, and it is most certainly in the interests of any employer to prevent such activity from occurring. The question however is, how?

Discipline / Dismissal
There is limited case law in this jurisdiction in Ireland but there are a few principles that employers should take into account before sanctioning an employee for internet, social media activity.

  • How did it come to the employer’s attention? 
    • As a result of unlawful surveillance, which may be considered an invasion of privacy
  • If the material has/could cause actual damage or bring the business into disrepute?
  • If there is a policy which is clear in covering the activity and if it has been communicated to staff?
  • Has the activity taken place in the public or private domain?

While the use and abuse of the internet and social media can sometimes justify employer dismissal and disciplinary action, it is vitally important to have good policies in place. Without appropriate policies setting out the boundaries of what an employee can and cannot do on social media, it can be extremely difficult to discipline an employee for posting items or content with which an employer may take issue, particularly for breaches of employment law and or equality acts.

What should the Policy Contain?

A social media policy should state what type and level of social media use and behaviour is acceptable and unacceptable. It should be made clear that disciplinary action may be taken as a result of inappropriate social media use on private sites and for activities which take place outside working hours, if they impact on the workplace. The business interest or value which is sought to be protected should be expressly identified in the policy so as to provide maximum justification in cases of sanction or dismissal.

As this is a relatively new area for employment law in Ireland it is difficult to tell how Tribunals, Adjudicators may or may not deal with discipline and dismissal cases, but what we have seen from cases that have been before the courts so far is that it is definitely in the best interest of employers to have some form of social media policy then no social media policy!

Next week we’ll cover recent social media cases that have come before the courts and we’ll examine the position that Tribunals appear to be taking.

Bright Contracts has a fully comprehensive social media policy built into the software.

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