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Social media: When does it impact on the employment relationship?

23 May 2019
Danny Baker was recently sacked from his position as a radio presenter on BBC 5 Live, following a tweet which he has since described as a "serious error of judgement".

The tweet in question showed a couple holding hands with a chimpanzee dressed in a suit. Baker posted the image along with the caption 'Royal Baby leaves hospital', in reference to the birth of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's new baby.

Baker subsequently deleted the tweet and apologised. However, the BBC took the decision to dismiss him and said in a statement that the tweet, "goes against the values we as a station aim to embody". 

For employees, the incident demonstrates the impact which the use of social media in a personal capacity can have on someone's professional career.

The challenge for employers is to ensure that the social media activity of their employees is responsible and not damaging their business, whilst avoiding excessive restrictions and time consuming micro-management. 

Preventative Measures

In order to minimise the risk of inappropriate social media activity, there are preventative measures which employers should put in place. 

A good start is with a clear social media policy. It is important to communicate what is deemed to be inappropriate use of social media, as well as the potential consequences for failing to comply with those standards. 

It is also useful to provide training. This will ensure that employees are aware of their responsibilities whilst using social media. Similarly, newsworthy incidents such as Danny Baker's sacking are a good opportunity to remind employees of these issues.

When can an employer take action over social media content?

There are a number of factors for employers to consider when contemplating disciplinary action. The main issue will usually be the content itself. Most employers are likely to take action against an employee who posts racist or abusive content, or content which could be considered harassment. Care should be taken, though, where instances are less obvious, or don't fall neatly within a policy. 

Another factor will be the level of publicity. In Danny Baker's case, he is a well-known employee of the BBC, with over half a million Twitter followers. A similar tweet by a senior employee or manager of a company would likely attract a similar response from an employer. However, a post to a small, private group should attract different treatment.

Employers should also consider the potential damage caused. For example, a post by an employee written without any foul or abusive language, but criticising the company, could still be very damaging.

Employees must always be aware of the potential consequences of their actions on social media and are, ultimately, responsible for what they post online. Employers should ensure that they take steps to minimise the risk of reputational damage via the social media activities of their employees.


Authored by Jamie Russell

Further Reading