Business Law: Andrew West on when tweets turn out badly

Andrew West of Gotelee Solicitors.

Andrew West of Gotelee Solicitors. - Credit: Archant

“Think I just hit a cyclist. But I’m late for work so had to drive off lol.” Newspapers reported that the author of this tweet was sacked by his employer last month, despite his claim that there was no truth in what he’d written and that it was just a bad joke.

He was a stockbroker, and his ill-advised tweet brought about an immediate backlash from other Twitter users who followed him. This resulted in him making a grovelling apology on Twitter.

Despite this, his employers are reported to have sacked him with immediate effect, saying: “One of our employees has failed to conduct themselves to the standards we expect of our staff. We find these online comments totally unacceptable.”

Whatever the facts and the rights and wrongs, the story is a reminder of the ever-changing challenges facing organisations all over the world, keen to not be tainted by association.

This worldwide context is important because any single social media comment has the potential to go global at the touch of a button or two – and viral, depending on its content. Not all publicity is good publicity.

But would the dismissal be fair? Most of the decisions that we have seen so far on inappropriate social media postings have placed some emphasis on a need for employers to have a clear social media policy that prohibits the making of offensive remarks on a private social media account.

Also important is the consideration of how the user has locked down their privacy settings and how likely it is that the employer could be linked to, or have their reputation damaged by association with, the comments themselves.

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It’s relevant if the employee has identified who they work for in their social media profile, or if their followers are work colleagues, clients or contacts of the employer.

So for these reasons alone, a well-worded, well-communicated social media policy is fundamental. Even if it doesn’t eliminate employees’ misuse of the likes of Twitter and Facebook, it will stand you in better stead if you’re forced to defend their dismissal.

: : Andrew West is employment law partner at Gotelee Solicitors.

If you would like any further information on this or any other employment law issues, please contact Andrew West on 01473 298102 or andrew.west@gotelee.co.uk.