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Expertise
28th March 2023

To Tweet or not to Tweet: dealing with controversial social media posts in the workplace

To Tweet or not to Tweet: dealing with controversial social media posts in the workplace
Sophia Smout
Sophia Smout
Trainee Solicitor

The dust is settling on the recent controversy surrounding Gary Lineker's Tweet about the government's planned immigration scheme. 

The BBC's confused reaction has highlighted a number of issues relating to political impartiality, it has also pointed to a wider issue - the use of personal social media by employees, and its potential impact on employers. 

So how should an employer react when an employee uses a personal social media account to post something which has potential to harm the employer? 

Perhaps given the relative novelty of the issue, the legal position is far from clear. The case of Game Retail Ltd v Laws demonstrated that, where a social media post has legitimate potential to damage an employer's reputation, dismissal can be a reasonable response - even where the post was made outside of working hours. 

However, in Smith v Trafford Housing and Mason v Huddersfield Giants, the employers' respective reactions of demotion and dismissal in response to controversial social media posts by their employees were overturned by the Employment Tribunal on the basis that they were disproportionate. 

In both cases, the tribunal held that there was no obvious link between the employee's post and the employer, and therefore the likelihood of the employer being associated with or harmed by the post was minimal. 

In light of the above, and the BBC's chaotic reaction to Lineker's tweet, perhaps the key takeaway for employers is to ensure that their policies on social media use by employees are absolutely clear. 

Many employers now include a social media policy in their Staff Handbooks; it is worth using these to spell out what will and will not be acceptable to the employer, and to make clear that using social media in the employee's own time does not necessarily preclude an impact for the employer. 

However, the above cases also highlight the importance of viewing every situation on a case-by-case basis, and of properly examining the likely effect on the employer's reputation before drastic disciplinary steps are taken.