Can social media damage an organisations reputation?

11 September 2019

Social media plays a significant role when it comes to making or breaking your organisations reputation.

With the increasing use of social media in both our business and personal lives, it is more important than ever for companies to protect their reputations. By an employee making an offensive comment, it could do harm to the company’s reputation.

Employees misusing social media can be defined as, posting inappropriate comments on social media about the organisation they are employed by, disrespecting their managers, colleagues or employer online or posting spiteful and offensive posts about members of staff which is known as cyber bullying.  All of these factors have legal risks for a business. 

Can an employer be held liable for an offence post by an employee?

If an employee has posted offensive content on their social media page and it’s been seen by others, there is a chance that an employer could be liable if it was done ‘in the course of employment’.

Case examples:

Otomewo v Carphone Warehouse Ltd

In the case of Otomewo v Carphone Warehouse Ltd, the employees got a hold of their managers phone and posted an inappropriate comment which read: “Finally came out the closet. I am gay and proud”. The tribunal held that because the post was in the course of employer (it took place during working hours) and involved employees and a manager, the employer was liable.

Forbes V LHR Airport Limited

In Forbes V LHR Airport Limited, an employee ‘Ms S’ of the claimant had posted an image on her personal Facebook page which was offensive and another employee showed the image to the claimant. The claimant complained to the respondent that racist images were being sent around the workplace. The respondent took disciplinary action against Ms S and provided her with a final written warning. When the claimant was allocated to work with Ms S, he filed a complaint and was moved to another location. He was then later signed off sick and he then issued proceedings before the ET alleging harassment, victimisation and discrimination. The ET then concluded that Ms S’s actions were not carried out in the course of employment and the respondent had taken all discriminatory act and was not responsible for the actions of Ms S. 

The claimant appealed this decision, claiming that this action was done during work time, however the EAT did not find any substantial evidence and dismissed the appeal.  Ms S had not posted the image whilst in work, or on a work computer, it made no reference to her employer and it was shared on a private page in which she was not ‘friends’ with the Appellant. This act was not therefore one which the Respondent could be liable.  However, had the picture been shared whilst at work the employer may have held liable and the employment tribunal decision may have been different.   

So, should your employee handbook have a social media policy?

The answer is YES! And here is why:

  • Protect the organisations reputation 
  • Provides clear guidance to the employee about what’s acceptable and what’s not so there should be no confusion. If legal issues arise, the company will be able to enforce the penalty which is stated in the handbook
  • Social media can be used positively with employees sharing company posts and creating better brand awareness and promoting the company. The policy would help to get this right. 

As it is clear, protecting your reputation is most important. Having a robust social media strategy in provides a clear framework and gives employees guidance on what they can and cannot post. If the content online is offensive or discriminatory on any sort of social media account whether it be public or private and is seen by an employee, it must be reported.  When a complaint is made about an employee’s social media post it must be taken seriously by an employer.  

Here at Quest we can help! We can review your current policies and write a specific social media policy for your organisation so that your employees are aware of consequences that could arise if they do not comply with guidelines. Save your organisation from being liable and contact us today on 0333 240 7208.

Meet the Quest Experts

Hema Mistry

Operations Manager

With over 20 years experience in HR, Hema draws her expert specialist knowledge from a broad range of industries, including employment advisory and consultancy services, retail, manufacturing and leisure. Being MCIPD qualified enables her to quickly understand how organisations operate, how to interact with their business leaders and to deliver effective commercial and practical solutions.

Andy Hooke

Health, Safety & Training Business Partner

Andy is NEBOSH trained and a technical member of the Institution of Occupational Safety & Health (IOSH). Andy is often found studying the latest updates to legislation to keep his knowledge up to date and provide the best advice. With a passion for health and safety and experience in a range of environments from large corporates to small business, Andy is well placed to support you in all your health and safety needs.

Jill Colston

HR and Training Business Partner

Jill has over 14 years’ experience in HR & Training. Having started a career as a police officer; she changed careers to HR & Training dealing with Equality & Diversity in the workplace. Jill is passionate about Diversity, Inclusion and HR and has supported companies in managing their HR and training needs. She has a wealth of expertise across HR, dealing with challenging casework, company restructure projects, mediation, training, organisational development systems; equality and diversity.

Arti Patel

HR Business Partner

Arti has a strong background in HR and is a fully qualified CIPD member. She has worked with challenging casework and has a good understanding of how to deal with workplace matters as they arise.

Jatinder Tara

Advice Line Team Leader

Jatinder is qualified non-practising Solicitor, he has over 22 years advisory experience in Employment law, HR matters and Employment Tribunal litigation. He manages the legal and HR advice line team ensuring the delivery of advice is effective verbally and in correspondence. He has experience in training and coaching work colleagues in all aspects of legal and employment matters. With his sound understanding of issues arising with in the workplace environment, Jatinder aims to deliver clear and concise client focussed advice.

Anoop Sodhi

HR Employment Relations Advisor

Anoop is an experienced HR Advisor and is part of the Telephone Advice Line Team. Anoop has worked in both the public and private sector, providing Employment Law advice ranging from grievances, disciplinaries, performance management, attendance management and mediation. Anoop is a trained mediator and provides down to earth, pragmatic, commercial advice. Outside of work, Anoop actively participates as a CIPD Board Member of East Midlands.

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