Social Media and Employment Law

The Use of Social Media in the Workplace

social media and employment law Social Media and Employment Law

Employment law is slowly catching up with modern technology but there are still some grey areas where social media and employment law overlap. For example: –

Who owns LinkedIn contacts?

If you are paid by your employer to build up business connections using social media your employer will own those connections. For example lists of customers created by employees during their employment should belong to their employer and not be kept after employment.

The courts have applied this to electronic address books. An employee who kept all their contacts, including their personal contacts, in their employer’s e-mail system was required to hand it over when they left as those contacts belonged to their employer.

What about LinkedIn? This is yet to be tested in the courts but a recent case indicated that an employee who used his employer’s contact database to send LinkedIn connection invitations to clients and candidates had no right to keep those connections once employment ended. The employer could demand that an employee delete those contacts made via work but not personal contacts not made in connection with the employee’s employment.

The law on this remains uncertain and employers who rely upon their employees building networks should use their contracts or policies to create some clarity as to who owns what.

Can you dismiss an employee because of their Facebook status?

Potentially yes.

There have been a large number of high profile and embarrassing dismissals because of Facebook. For example:

  • An Apple Store employee dismissed for posting a series of rants about his employers on Facebook lost his claim for unfair dismissal. The employment tribunal said that Apple’s social media policy banned critical remarks about the company and that Facebook posts were not truly private.
  • An employee who put as her status “OMG I HATE MY JOB!!” and referred to her boss in very unflattering terms was dismissed when she forgot that she had added her boss as a friend and he read her status.
  • There have been countless examples of employees being dismissed after falsely claiming to be sick. In one example an employee was dismissed after he put his status as: “Kevin is not going to work, f… it – I’m still trashed. SICKIE WOO!”

The scale of this is huge; a Freedom of information request revealed that in the Police Force at least two police officers have been sacked, seven resigned and 150 faced disciplinary action after Facebook posts in the past four years.

Can you sack an employee for uploading their CV on LinkedIn?

Generally not, employees are free to seek alternative employment in their own time without their employer interfering.

However, there is currently a case in the Reading Employment Tribunal where an employee who posted his CV on LinkedIn is bringing a claim for unfair dismissal. His employers claim that their policy is that employees should not indicate they are interested in “career opportunities” and that this employee included disparaging remarks and confidential information about the company in his CV.