In today’s world, social media exists as a focal point of communication and is the most popular method of sharing information. It’s not uncommon for us to share our personal thoughts and photos on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram; but what happens when we share details of work online or express a particularly strong opinion on social media at the workplace? Businesses look to social media use to expand their trade and employees are increasingly expected to represent their employer’s visions and values online as well as offline.

It’s important to bear in mind that social media provides an enormous amount of privileges for society and the benefits on offer for marketing are invaluable. In an employment context, we have seen numerous cases where employees have been dismissed by employers after sharing offensive or insensitive content onto social media. An example would be the release of six HSBC bankers who posted a video of themselves re-enacting an ISIS beheading. HSBC reiterated their zero-tolerance policy towards this type of behaviour and called the video “abhorrent”.

There has been little objection to punishing individuals who post distasteful content on social media but any action taken to remedy the offence must be proportionate and reasonable. The law tries to limit employer intrusion into the non-work life of an employee in order to protect both parties’ rights to privacy and home life under art.8 European Convention of Human Rights. Of course if an employee makes visible offensive remarks online, this could reflect badly on a company’s reputation thus making disciplinary action available. In 2014, a manager of a game retail chain was dismissed after offensive tweets made from his store’s Twitter accounts were discovered by senior managers. It was not disputed in the case that the employer had the right to dismiss an employee and it was the tribunal’s responsibility to decide whether the dismissal was fair or unfair.

Employees generally consent to employers browsing through their emails and internet use in the workplace. In the US, employee privacy is not viewed by law as an employee right but instead as a restriction on an employer’s rights. The law in England and Wales is similar in that employers will have a tough stance on gross online misconduct. An employee can potentially violate defamation laws by posting libellous comments online so employers must be ready to take action in this regard. The law is also expected to protect an employee’s right to privacy and help prevent sensitive information relating to their health, credit card details etc from being exploited by an employer.

It’s important to note the difference between social media and social networking. Social networking was established to allow individuals to connect online whilst social media aims to create more personal relationships between people. It would be wise to review your company’s social networking and social media use policy as it would be useful to know what rules and regulations are enforced at your workplace. Regular online monitoring of employees is usually done ethically by employers but people may still find the practice to be intrusive. Employers ultimately have a right to dismiss employees should shared content be sufficiently damaging to the business or to other people.

For further advice in this area, contact us on 01792 468684 or email


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