Social media – the latest warning for employers to put a policy in place

Unless employers are able to show they have taken ‘all reasonable steps’ to prevent their… Read more

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Social media – the latest warning for employers to put a policy in place

Unless employers are able to show they have taken ‘all reasonable steps’ to prevent their employees committing acts constituting discrimination, harassment, bullying or other such acts they can find themselves liable for their employees’ actions if committed ‘in the course of employment’. Apart from the potential cost and disruption of dealing with any resulting litigation, such episodes can be incredibly damaging to a business’s reputation.

A recent case involving Carphone Warehouse employees serves as a good reminder, as comments posted by employees on a colleague’s Facebook page relating to his sexual orientation were included as part of an employment claim against the company. Two employees posted the comments while at work, after they stole their colleague’s iPhone without permission and updated his status to ‘Finally came out of the closet. I am gay and proud’.

The individual in question successfully brought a claim for sexual orientation harassment against his employer, as the tribunal felt the comments had been made during the course of employment and that Carphone Warehouse should be vicariously liable for such actions. The key question employers have to answer in these circumstances is whether they have taken sufficient steps to set out clear boundaries in order to try and limit the possibility employees feel free to use social media in this manner, as well as minimising the opportunity for such behaviour in the workplace.

Action point
The case highlights how crucial it is for employers to show they have been proactive in trying to avoid such situations. Having clear wording on use of social media, either in a social media policy or within your bullying and harassment policy is really the minimum needed in order to try and avoid claims of vicarious liability in a similar situation. Once a policy is in place, it is then vital to make employees aware of it and enforce it consistently.

Kate Ledwidge

Kate Ledwidge

3rd Sep
2012

Kate Ledwidge

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