Isle of Man: How To Manage Your Online Reputation

Last Updated: 6 October 2014
Article by Irini Newby

The separation between work and your personal life used to be simple. Then came the internet and social media. Facebook, LinkedIn, Snapchat and AudioBoo have changed not only the way we communicate socially but also with whom.

If you set up the accounts properly, Facebook and Twitter are surely private? Therefore, you would think that we can say what we like. Not so.

Employee Tribunal Division

Employees can be fairly dismissed for comments they make on a social networking site, even if they access the site on their own personal computer or smartphone, outside working hours, and their profile page does not state where they work. The test is whether their conduct relates to their employment relationship with their employer.

There have been a series of UK employment tribunal decisions over the past few years dealing with social media and employers, particularly as a result of employees acting in a way that would bring their employer into disrepute, or which could damage its reputation.

To avoid uncertainty employers should have an effective social media policy which sets out clearly, with examples, what behaviour outside work they consider is and is not acceptable, to ensure its reputation is protected.

Policy

The importance of having a policy can be illustrated by a case in the UK, Witham vs Club24 Ltd (t/a Ventura) ET/1810462/10. In this case, the employee was a team leader for Skoda Customer Services (part of the Volkswagen group) and posted a comment on her Facebook page stating: "...I think I work in a nursery, and I do not mean working with plants...".

There followed a conversation with friends over Facebook and two of the employee's colleagues (who were her friends on Facebook) reported the conversation to management.

The employer was concerned about the detrimental impact of the employee's comments and its relationship with Volkswagen. However, it could not identify a breach of the relevant sections of any social media or disciplinary policy and, instead, alleged that the conduct constituted a serious breach of confidence. To support this, it relied on a provision in the Staff Handbook which stated that employees must not disclose confidential information to third parties. However, an Employment Tribunal found there was no breach of confidence and the employer was enforcing the wrong category of misconduct. If the employer had had an effective social media policy, the case might have ended very differently.

Set out appropriate grievance procedures

A shift manager's dismissal for gross misconduct was found to be fair after she made inappropriate comments about customers on her Facebook page at work. The employee argued, in mitigation, that she was angry and had been upset by abusive customers. The Tribunal, however, said the employer had provided a hotline for employees to seek the advice of an experienced manager if they felt the stress, it was open to the employee to make use of this.

Employers may wish to stress that if employees have any issues at work, they must raise them through a grievance procedure, or other forms, such as an employee helpline, and that ranting on social media is not acceptable.

Religious and Political Views

One of the most difficult areas to monitor and regulate is employees expressing religious or political views, or joining groups which the employer feels could harm its reputation and relationships with clients.

In the case Smith vs Trafford Housing Trust [2012] EWHC 3221, a Christian employee read a news article on BBC website headed: "Gay Church "Marriages" Set to Get the Go Ahead". Thinking the article might interest some of his Christian friends, he posted a link on his Facebook wall, together with a comment, "an equality too far". Following comments from others, he posted, "I don't understand why people who have no faith or don't believe in Christ, would want to get hitched in church. The bible is quite specific that marriage is for men and women. If the state wants to offer civil marriage to the same sex then that is up to the state; but the state shouldn't impose its [sit] rules on places of faith and conscience."

The Housing Trust maintained the comments were in breach of its code of conduct for its employees and demoted the Claimant for gross misconduct. One part of the code of conduct relied on by the Trust stated: "the Trust is a non-political, non-denominational organisation; employees should not attempt to promote their political or religious views. Employees are expected to respect the customs and culture of any customers, their friends and family and colleagues.

The High Court, in a cautious judgment, found the prohibition of promoting political or religious views lay very much at the work-related end spectrum because, otherwise, it could interfere with the employees' right of freedom of expression and religious and political beliefs. It determined that the employees Facebook page was not sufficiently work related to attract the work prohibition against promoting religious or political beliefs. This was the case, even though 45 of his work colleagues were Facebook friends, and he had identified himself as a manager of the Trust.

The Court said the employees Facebook page was inherently non-work related, as it was used to express his personal views about matters which had nothing to do with work. It concluded that the prohibition of promoting political and religious views did not, as a matter of interpretation and application, extend to his Facebook wall.

Employers should be advised to give careful thought in any social media policy to how the differentiate between an employee's personal view that other employees, client and the business may disagree with, and those which are genuinely detrimental to organisation's reputation.

Bullying and Harassment

An employer is vicariously liable for the acts of its employees that incur in the course of the employment. This means that it may be liable for bulling and harassment that occur on social media sites. In a 2012 case, an employee was not even aware of extremely offensive posts made about her by a work colleague (as they were not Facebook friends) until she was shown them. Legal advisors should recommend the employer makes it explicit that disparaging and inappropriate comments about another employee on social media will amount to a breach of the policy, even if the victim is not aware of the post.

A number of the social media cases arose because a colleague reported an offending post to the employer. Employees should be reminded that colleagues reporting offending posts must not be bullied or harassed.

In another case, an employee put up threatening and intimidating posts about a work colleague who had reported to management his comments referring to his place of work as "Dante's inferno". The Tribunal found the threatening post was, of itself, sufficient to justify his dismissal.

Bringing the Policy to Employees attention

An argument often raised by employees is that they were not aware, or made aware, of the contents of the policy. Employees should, therefore, be asked to sign the social media policy, confirming they have fully read and understood it. Employers should also be advised to hold induction training, where they draw their policies to employees' attention. Employees cannot then claim the defence that they do not know, or were never told, about the policy.

Social Media Statistics

As can be seen in the examples above, Facebook is a very common social media outlet individuals use to express their views and recent statistics of this site prove rather interesting. Whilst Facebook was once the go to social media site for teenagers, within the past three years, more than 25per cent of teenagers (aged 13-17) have left Facebook. Surprisingly, older individuals have joined Facebook, with the aged 25-34 population increasing by 32per cent, the aged 35-54 population increasing by 41per cent and the aged 55+ population increasing by a considerable 80per cent.

These statistics demonstrate that Facebook is becoming progressively more and more popular amongst the 'working age' population. Whilst businesses will use Facebook as an ideal opportunity to advertise and promote business, they will also undoubtedly realise than since 30 billion pieces of content are shared each month (including statuses, comments and photos) they must have policies in place to protect their reputation.

However, since hundreds of social media sites exist, employers will not only be looking at your Facebook page for evidence of misconduct. The amount of individuals worldwide who use at least one social media site has risen to 25per cent. This year, the top 10 most popular social media sites are as follows:

  1. Facebook
  2. Pinterest
  3. Twitter
  4. LinkedIn
  5. Google Plus +
  6. Tumblr
  7. Instagram
  8. VK
  9. Flickr
  10. Vine

Instagram and Twitter can be regarded as youth dominated networks, since statistics illustrate that 74per cent of Twitter users are aged between 15 and 25 and 90per cent of Instagram users are under 35. On the other hand, however, Pinterest and LinkedIn can be considered 'older generation' social media sites; the average age of a LinkedIn user is considered 42 and only 21per cent of Pinterest users are below the age of 25. Both sites have seen a sudden rise in popularity with Pinterest users having even recently overtaken those of Twitter.

Again, these trends highlight the need for employers to have an effective social media policy. If employees are increasingly joining social networking sites, employers have a higher risk of the business's reputation being damaged. This is because the employee could post, tweet comment or endorse the 'wrong' type of behaviour, potentially linking the whole business to that specific behaviour.

Summary

These cases show that social media use requires proper policing. Employees need to be fully aware of what conduct their employer considers is and is not acceptable.

This is best achieved through a social media policy that is clear and explicit, gives examples to cover all the above situations, and is actively bought to the employee's attention. Induction training may be helpful, and internet monitoring should be made known. Employers will also have to ensure that they apply any policy consistently, and that the sanctions they impose for any breaches are proportionate.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
 
In association with
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.

Disclaimer

Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.

Registration

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.

Cookies

A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.

Links

This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.

Mail-A-Friend

If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.

Security

This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.