The use of social media is fast expanding in the workplace. While an employer may legitimately restrict an employee’s freedom of expression at work, or in a work-related context, whether that restriction can extend to personal, out-of-work, activities will depend on the circumstances of each case.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has held that an employment judge failed to take full account of the public nature of Twitter when finding that an employee’s dismissal for posting offensive tweets was unfair. The judge did not properly consider whether the employee’s purportedly private use of Twitter was truly private, given that he was followed by 65 of his employer’s stores. This case suggests that an employer is entitled to be concerned as the result of there being a chance that offensive tweets will be read, rather than needing to prove that the tweets have caused offence.
From a practical perspective, employers should remind employees to create separate personal and work-related Twitter accounts and should be explicit about both their expectations as to the use of social media and the sanctions that an employee can expect to face if they fail to adhere to these.