UK: Social Networking: An Advantage for your Business or a Liability?

Last Updated: 25 November 2010
Article by Ben Gillespie and Sara Khoja

In the past five years, social networking sites have become a phenomena of the workplace, whether for personal or professional use. The use of social networking sites such as Facebook, My Space, LinkedIn, and Twitter enables individuals to increase their online visibility by setting up personal web pages and creating online communities of friends and professional contacts.

Such sites can, if used correctly, generate interest in an employer's brand (and possibly employee's) and help a business maintain contact with clients and business associates; with individuals in some instances reconnecting with past friends and/or acquaintances. However, these sites can lead to a blurring of the boundaries between the professional and personal, resulting in a massive impact on the workplace with implications for employers and employees which need to be managed.


Profile pages on networking sites contain a wide range of personal information which can be accessible to all depending on an individual's privacy settings. As well as standard background information on profile pages, photographs and voluntary information such as political preferences, religion and belief, relationship status, sexuality and interests can be posted. Individuals can post information and access information about others.

Employers are increasingly searching social networking sites as part of their recruitment vetting process to the extent that a law has been passed in Germany to outlaw the practice on the basis that it represents an invasion of privacy. Research by recruitment firms and Microsoft in December 2009, has shown that individuals have failed in job applications due to information set out in their social networking profile pages. Employers need to take care that recruitment decisions based on the content of networking sites do not render them liable for unlawful discrimination; with both the DIFC Employment Law 2005 and the QFC Employment Law prohibiting a refusal to employ an individual on the grounds of his or her sex, race, nationality, disability, marital status and religion.

Employers in the DIFC and QFC are also subject to data protection laws which impose a higher regulatory burden where the data processed is sensitive personal data; exactly the sort of details personal web pages often include. Individuals have the right to know that their personal information is being processed, which it almost certainly would be if an employer scans social networking sites to vet applicants. Best practice would dictate that an applicant is informed about the vetting and verification exercise to be undertaken and given an opportunity to comment on the accuracy of the information collected.


Further research shows that 18 to 29 year olds in the workforce spend three hours or more each week on such sites during working hours. Employers can consider blocking access to such sites (as well as to personal email sites such as gmail, hotmail and yahoo) but may meet with tough resistance, especially where employees work long hours. Instead, access could be limited to certain periods of time or disciplinary action may be taken if an employee's use is excessive and can be shown to be detrimental to his work. A company policy could also prohibit the postings of opinions regarding colleagues or the company and employment contracts could oblige employees to devote all of their working time to their duties.

Confidential Information and Intellectual Property

Use of a site such as LinkedIn may enable employees to effectively market their employer and maintain existing client relationships; often through sharing market information, bulletins, articles and news items. LinkedIn and Twitter can also provide a forum for 'crowdsourcing' i.e. asking for opinions, thoughts, input and help from online communities, groups and networks.

However, employees could reveal confidential information on such sites and in particular if they 'blog' which involves them stating personal opinions, potentially about their employer, its products or service range. Employees could also potentially infringe copyright under UAE Federal Law No 7 of 2002 (Copyright Law).

LinkedIn also poses a unique problem as it effectively works as a database of clients and contacts, many of which may have been made through employment. When an employee leaves, he can take his on line database with him. Employment Contracts and company policies should specify what information is confidential and the permitted use of such information during an employee's employment and post termination. Termination of employment without notice is permitted under the KSA Labour Code (article 80), UAE Labour Law (article 120) and the Qatari Labour Law (article 61) if an employee reveals an employer's confidential information. Criminal proceedings may also be brought under each country's penal code.


Employees' postings and behavior in the virtual world can lead to embarrassment and damage to the employer's reputation such as to justify disciplinary action and perhaps even dismissal. Web pages, discussion forums, or blogs may be set up specifically to discuss a certain organization or product or service line. In November 2008, thirteen Virgin flight attendants were dismissed for calling the company's flyers 'chavs.' Such is the proliferation of networking sites in the virtual world that a new word has been invented for those who lose their job as a result of what they say online; they have been 'dooced.'

Employers could carry out regular searches to uncover what is being said about the business online and thereby monitor employees' activities. Disciplinary policies should clarify examples of what actions will be regarded as misconduct and what sanctions will be imposed.

Discrimination and Vicarious Liability

Under QFC and DIFC employment law, an employer may be held vicariously liable for the actions of its employees, for example bullying or harassing a colleague by comments made on facebook or twitter (there have already been some high profile prosecutions in the US). To avoid liability an employer must demonstrate that the employee acted outside the course of his employment and that it took reasonable steps to prevent the act. Again, a clear policy on social media and acceptable behavior in the virtual world would go a long way to establishing clear and transparent rules of conduct.

An employee posting a comment on a colleague could be guilty of discrimination on unlawful grounds, defamation, libel or harassment. The employee himself would be personally liable and a possible action under tort for harm suffered by the colleague commented on, could be raised in accordance with the civil codes of UAE, Qatar or KSA.

Criminal Offences

Defamation is a criminal offence in the penal codes of the UAE, Qatar and KSA. In the UAE a statement is defamatory under articles 371 to 373 of the UAE Penal Code, if it is an accusation which dishonours or discredits the person in the mind of the public generally and it has been made publicly. A fine of AED 20,000 and imprisonment of up to 2 years may be imposed.

Furthermore under the Penal Code, it is a criminal offence to publish information relating to a person's private and family life, including photos, pictures and comments without their consent. Under the Copyright Law, copyright infringement is punishable by imprisonment of two months (and a fine of AED 10,000-50,000) which double both on subsequent infringements, and the term of imprisonment may rise to 6 months if the same offence is recommitted (with the fine being a minimum of AED 50,000). 'Fair use' is permitted under the Copyright Law meaning the 'quotation of short paragraphs, derivation or reasonable analysis of work for the purposes of criticism, discussion or information' provided the source and author are mentioned. The Copyright Law permits the publication of a photo if it is of a famous person and was taken on a public occasion.

It is also a criminal offence in the UAE under Law No 15 of 1980 regarding printed matter and publishing, to publish confidential information damaging to a reputation of a person, his wealth and commercial name. The Cybercrimes law (law no 2 of 2006) prohibits publication of news or pictures which offend public manners, are contrary to Islamic principles or which violate an individual's private or family life.

Staff Policy and Disciplinary Action

An employer's openness to social networking sites will depend on the sector in which it operates and openness to such sites may make the employer more attractive to new recruits. The key consideration is to set clear standards of behavior so that an employee knows what is expected of him in terms of his performance and behavior at the outset and the consequences of getting it wrong. Employees should be aware of a common misconception that social networking sites are private and their postings will be in the public domain.

Matters are made more complicated when the misconduct takes place outside of working hours and an employer feels its reputation has been damaged. In that situation an employer must assess how far the conduct impacts on the workplace and how far its reputation has actually been damaged, for example has the employee's behavior undermined client relationships or breached confidentiality. The more senior an employee the greater will be his obligation to act in the employer's best interests and employees in the DIFC will be subject to the Law of Obligations 2005.

Employers should be mindful of employees' right to privacy protected by the constitution and also their entitlement to privacy of communication and not to have details of their personal life published without their consent. Where an employer is actively monitoring its employees, this should be explicitly set out in a company policy and express consent from employees obtained. It should be made clear to employees that the communications and IT system remains company property and personal use should be minimized.

The boundaries of what is acceptable and what is not, are still being determined by juridical authority and employers would be well advised to be transparent and clear to employees in order to set expectations and ensure appropriate behavior in the workplace (including the virtual one!).

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

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

Sara Khoja
In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
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
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

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 or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq 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 of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions