15 Aug 2018
By Jack Boyle, Associate Solicitor Employment Law, Blackadders LLP www.blackadders.co.uk
Q: Have you ever heard about an employee being disciplined or dismissed because of inappropriate comments posted on social media? A: Yes
Q: Have you ever heard of a football player being fined a paltry sum out of their astronomical weekly wage over an ill-judged tweet? A: Yes
Q: Have you ever heard of Lord Sugar being made to apologise for a supposedly humorous but potentially racist tweet? A: Yes
Q: Have you ever heard of a lawyer finding herself in hot water in regard to her own social media postings? A: Keep reading below for more…..
Perhaps five or even ten years ago, it was still regarded as a fairly novel concept that a person could get in trouble with their employer over posts made by them on Facebook, Twitter and the like. Over those years, however, the law has evolved and developed to grapple with issues such as private profiles, rights to respect for private and family life, freedom of expression, and so on.
The law is now fairly clear that an employee can be disciplined for inappropriate, discriminatory or offensive posts on social media sites. A quick Google search will soon provide you with enough examples of such cases and the factors which tribunals have taken into account in deciding such cases. For example, does the employer have a social media policy? Can the employer show evidence of reputational damage? Are the comments severe enough to merit disciplinary action?
An alarming decision was reached this month by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal in England. Deborah Daniels (DD) is a partner in a law firm in Yorkshire. The seventy-one-year-old had a Twitter profile which publically identified herself as a solicitor. She tweeted about various matters and expressed views which some would argue are not “PC”. Others might regard her tweets as even more serious. For example, she tweeted expressing views against (i) Islam; (ii) Judaism; and (iii) Catholicism. Employment lawyers, HR people and many others will know that it is unlawful to discriminate against people or groups because of their religious beliefs.
While she was remorseful before the Tribunal, the Tribunal found that by publically identifying herself as a solicitor and by posting offensive words and/or expressing hostility to various groups of people, DD was suspended from practising as a solicitor for 18 months. Additionally, DD was fined £11k in costs.
So think before you speak. And look before you creep. Especially if you are in a profession which requires you to be a fit and proper person.
For help and advice on putting together a social media policy or employment law, speak to a member of the Blackadders Employment Law Team.
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