John Watkins, Director of Employability at The University of Law, breaks down your rights when it comes to work and social media.
The recent controversy between Gary Lineker and the BBC has sparked fierce political conversations. Now, experts at The University of Law (ULaw) have shared one important lesson for all UK workers: check and understand your company’s social media policy or you could face serious consequences.
While the Lineker case is complex, at the heart of the issue is a claim that the ex-England footballer hasn’t adhered to the BBC’s strict social media policy. This certainly isn’t a unique case, as there have been many examples where employees have faced disciplinary action and even lost their job over one ill-judged post online[i].
John Watkins, Director of Employability at ULaw, explains: “There’s a common argument around free speech when it comes to social media, and whether an employer has a right to monitor or even control what we post on our personal channels. In short, whatever you share on the Internet is in the public sphere, so it’s fair game.
“This means you should be happy with anything you post being shared with your current or prospective employer. Even if your profile is private, it’s easy for someone to grab a screen shot and share far and wide – even once the offending post is deleted.”
One example of this policy in action is with Ford[ii], which advises employees that "the internet is a public space", and to “consider everything you post to the Internet the same as anything you would post on a physical bulletin board or submit to a newspaper”.
Whether or not your job is at risk from what you post online comes down to your employer’s social media policy. These will differ between companies, and some are stricter than others. Coca Cola, for example, says all employees claiming to be linked to the company must state their name and affiliation and emphasises that employees should keep track of conversations when they are representing the company[iii].
Almost all policies will ask employers to make clear that opinions are their own and not the company’s, as well asking employees to not share anything that will bring the company into disrepute (i.e. discrimination, sensitive information or anything that could negatively impact the company).
John Watkins continues: “When starting new employment, it’s important to check all the company policy documents, just as you would check through your contract. Ensure you’ve read each policy and understand how it affects you. Crucially, ensure you understand what the outcomes are if you breach official company policy.
“When it comes to social media it can be easy to think ‘my profile my rules’. However, if an employer does come across something questionable and deems it to be in breach of policy – and is found to be correct – it could cost you your job.”
John continues: “Of course, disciplinary or dismissal will always need to go down the official routes, and if ever you feel you have been unfairly dismissed there will usually be an appeals process. However, ensuring you know your social media policy from the start mitigates all risk. The golden rule is: if you have any doubt as to whether what you’re sharing is appropriate, no matter how small, don't post it online.”
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