Over the past few years there has been no shortage of stories highlighting the career risks the content we share online can pose. What we may be somewhat less aware of, however, is just how big a risk we face. Consider the following tweet for instance made by an employee recently.
This week I have mainly been driving to towns the arse end of nowhere .. shut roads and twats in caravans = road rage and loads
How risky would you say that was, especially if made on your personal Twitter feed, with no connection at all to your employer present on the account? I suspect that many of us might regard that as fair game, but a recent legal ruling should make us think again.
The case has made it possible for employers to use things we post on our personal social media accounts as grounds for sacking us if they could insult or offend potential customers in some way.
The case was brought by the video game retailer Game after they fired an employee over alleged inproper use of Twitter. The company sacked the employee for what they regarded as a significant number of offensive tweets were made from his account.
The employee who made no association on his account that he was employed by Game did, however, follow a number of the stores for which he was responsible via his job, with many subsequently following him back. His tweets were considered to be made in the public domain and therefore potentially viewable by employees of Game and its customers.
Game suggested that the plethora of tweets made by the employee were offensive to a range of people, and despite being relatively mild, were still grounds for dismissal.
When the case was initially brought before the employment tribunal, the judge dismissed the sacking as unfair. When it was appealed however by Game, it was subsequently deemed that Game had reacted in accordance with the ’range of reasonable responses’ test that usually applies to instances of dismissal.
What does this mean for you and me?
Now, it has to be said that the final resolution in this case is still pending, so we shouldn’t rush to any conclusions with it. Indeed, the tribunal themselves were reticent to provide any guidance on how their finding should be used by other similar tribunals.
They did, however, suggest that there needs to be a balance struck between the employer’s clear desire to protect their reputation from errant social media posts made by employees and the freedom of expression of those same employees.
Despite this caveat however, it does nonetheless create a precedent that should be of great concern to any of you that use social media heavily, even if unrelated to your current employer. The ruling appears to suggest that tweets don’t have to be derogatory towards your employer, but merely offensive in general to land you in potentially hot water.
It could easily lead to employers locking down social media activity by employees entirely, with any potentially offensive content rendering employees liable for dismissal. Whereas once you might have gotten away with your sweary rant down the pub, if you do it on social media, you can no longer be assured of safety.
Do you tweet on a personal account? How do you feel about this ruling?