Minimising risk through proper social media policies

Minimising risk through proper social media policies

The recent case of British Waterways Board v Smith highlights the challenges faced by employers in the digital media age. Mark Minns, a lawyer at mpm legal solutions Limited, specialising in employment law, talks to Janine Isenegger about what this decision might mean for employers in the future and what in-house lawyers should consider when advising on social media issues.

 What were the facts of the case?

Mr Smith worked as a manual worker

for a team responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of canals and reservoirs from 1 April 2005 to 4 June 2013, when he was dismissed for gross misconduct. The team worked on a rota whereby they were on standby for one week in every five. During periods of standby, the consumption of alcohol was prohibited.

British Waterways Board disciplinary policy provided that they could dismiss employees for gross misconduct, listing a serious breach of its policies as an example. The social media policy prohibited any action online which might embarrass or discredit the company.

In May 2013, one of Mr Smith's managers supplied evidence of incriminating comments Mr Smith had made on Facebook.

One such comment was from 2011 and related to the consumption of alcohol while on standby. Mr Smith's manager and HR had known about this since 2012 but had not done anything about it.

This disclosure prompted a subsequent search by the HR team as part of which they found comments which referred to supervisors in a derogatory manner, as well as referencing alcohol consumption while on standby. Mr Smith was suspended pending an investigation into the Facebook comments. At a disciplinary hearing on 4 June 2013 he was summarily dismissed for gross misconduct--it was found that th

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