An employee is making negative comments on Facebook (how to address)

The use of social media

It is imperative, considering the wide use of social media, that employers adopt a social media policy which sends out a clear signal to its employees about its expectations for their use of social media.

Included within this policy should be a prohibition on the posting of negative comments about the company, its employees, business contacts or competitors.

What steps should an employer take?

When faced with the situation where an employee has posted negative comments on a social networking site, such as Facebook, the employer should begin collecting evidence as soon as the post is brought to their attention as this will prove useful in any subsequent disciplinary or legal action. Steps should also be taken to remove the comment from the site as soon as possible so as to minimise any damage to the reputation of the employer.

Employers should treat the misuse of social media as they would any other type of alleged misconduct, ensuring that the employer’s disciplinary procedure is followed, thus avoiding an unreasonable knee-jerk reaction from an angry employer. Therefore, an investigation into the issue should be commenced immediately to establish and gather all of the facts including, if necessary, taking statements from witnesses.

Once all evidence is gathered, the employer should invite the employee to attend a disciplinary hearing where the employee will have the opportunity to put forward their responses. The employee has the right to be accompanied to a disciplinary hearing by a colleague or trade union representative.

When taking disciplinary action against an employee, the employer should exercise caution if they are considering dismissal. Recent case law in this area highlights that the impact on the employer’s organisation must be sufficiently damaging to warrant a dismissal. If the comments are not directly about customers, products or the organisation, it might not be reasonable to dismiss, instead the employer could consider giving a lesser sanction such as a warning.

If the negative comment is defamatory in nature then employers should consider each case on its facts, remembering not to make any assumptions as there may be cases where the employee may be able to justify it and successfully defend any civil action.

Conclusion

In view of the above, employers should implement a clear social media policy, highlighting what the organisation will and will not tolerate. This should also emphasise the possible consequences of misusing social media.