Facebook-at-workSocial media can do an immense amount of good but we have also seen what happens when it goes wrong. There have been a wealth of bust ups via Twitter, for instance; JP Morgan being forced to stop a Twitter Q and A session, and the many Twitter troll trials. But what happens when the everyday user takes to social media to talk about work?

Recently a number of cases have involved social media users. Disaffected carer Lisa McCance openly tweeted about her boss and asked people to bomb the nursery with hashtags such as #sackthebitch and #cow. When threatened with disciplinary proceedings, Ms McCance took to Twitter again to air her views using the hashtag #couldn’tgiveaf–k #spinonit. As a result of these proceedings, her employment was terminated and she is now banned from working with children.

It is clear that this sort of tweeting might anger employers, yet it is not the only type of attitude that could cost you your career. Rayhan Qadar recently tweeted “think I just hit a cyclist. But I’m late for work so I had to drive off lol”. Mr Qadar claimed that this was meant as a joke, albeit in bad taste. His employer Hargreaves Lansdown terminated his employment within hours of the Tweet being sent as they viewed it as “totally unacceptable”.

So as an individual, what shouldn’t you post? In terms of employment law, the test will be fact specific and will differ in each case. The Employment Tribunal will look at whether the content was aimed at colleagues or clients, as well as whether the tweets were generally abusive or threatening. Your position in the company can also be an influencing factor in the analysis. A person’s conduct will be considered both before and after the offending post. An apology, remorse, and removal of the Tweet can help mitigate any damage.

Some cases are clear cut, for example, when an employee has broken the law. For instance s127 of the Communications Act 2003 makes it an offence to send grossly offensive, indecent, obscene messages or messages of a menacing character, and is punishable by up to 6 months imprisonment and/or a fine.

A case such as Smith v Trafford Housing Trust is less clear cut. Mr Smith used his personal Facebook page to describe gay marriage as “an equality too far”. In this instance, Mr Smith’s employer considered he had breached the Trust’s code of conduct and Mr Smith was demoted. When Mr Smith’s case reached the Courts, the judge disagreed. Briggs J analysed Mr Smith’s use of his Facebook page and concluded that a reasonable reader would understand the views to be Mr Smith’s own and not the Trust’s.

The following tips are useful to keep in mind when taking to social media to air your views:

  • Read and observe your organisation’s Social Media policy
  • Add a sentence to your profile stating that views expressed are your own and not your employer’s
  • Make full use of privacy settings. Remember that colleagues, potential and current employers may be checking your posts
  • Refrain from posting about your employer or your colleagues
  • Refrain from posting anything confidential or in bad taste
  • Refrain from posting anything about employment settlement agreements
  • If you have multiple accounts on one device, ensure you post from the right account.

Aimee Stevens is a Paralegal in the Defamation & Reputation Management Team and the Cyber Investigation Unit at Collyer Bristow LLP.