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Anti-social media – where to draw the Line(ker)?

Football is, apparently, all about opinions. But should employers be overly concerned when employees give their opinions or express their views on sensitive issues – or even the outcome of a football match? We’ve seen three examples of celebrities tweeting that have hit the headlines this week. What are the ramifications for employers?

social media

Own Goal?

First up is former footballer, current BBC employee and crisp salesman, Gary Lineker, who made a number of tweets on Sunday regarding his beloved Leicester City beating Manchester United. The tweets contained some profanity and the Telegraph took exception to this reporting that Lineker had “tarnished his squeaky clean image” and that he would be warned by the BBC over his conduct. It is now being reported that the BBC will remind Lineker of his responsibilities rather than have any kind of formal discussion.

 

But is the Telegraph right to make an issue of this and is it appropriate for the BBC to speak to one of its most recognised employees about comments that he makes outside of work which are not discriminatory or even, on the face of it, inflammatory?

The answer is probably not. After all, swearing is not against the law and Lineker was not commenting in his capacity as Match of the Day presenter but on his personal Twitter account. But it is a matter for employers, particularly high profile organisations like the BBC, to communicate their standards clearly to employees and let them know what is and isn’t acceptable both during the course of employment or otherwise in order to maintain its reputation.

Having a well designed social media policy is the starting point but continued training, education and employee engagement is also paramount. If you are, for example, a multi-national business would it set the right tone for your organisation if the CEO took to social media using bad language? Employers need to decide where to draw the line so that employees understand the boundaries.

Why always me?

That was a question asked famously by Mario Balotelli in reference to his seeming inability to avoid negative headlines. Balotelli’s tweet (“Man Utd…LOL”) following United’s defeat to Leicester on Sunday provoked a string of racist tweets which are now being investigated by police. Clearly this is much more serious than the Lineker scenario and the authors of those comments are liable to face criminal proceedings. However their employers are also going to be faced with decisions about the viability of continuing to employ these individuals in light of their conduct and the possible damage caused to the company’s reputation.

Murray Slammed for independent thinking

British number 1 tennis player Andy Murray received considerable abuse via social media after posting a supportive message for Scottish independence. Whilst Murray admitted “I don’t normally do things like that” (meaning express political opinion) the abuse received (both racial and in reference to the Dunblane massacre where Murray went to school) is being investigated by police. Again, as well as criminal proceedings, employees posting such comments risk losing their jobs where an employer decides that poor judgement makes them unsuitable for continued employment. A consistent theme in tribunal cases involving social media related dismissals is the risk to reputational harm that a company is exposed to by the actions of its employee which, in turn, is linked to the degree of circulation. Clearly, as the above examples show, the more famous the person involved, the more likely it is that an employee’s actions are to hit the headlines.

Other blogs of interest:

 LinkedIn – A step forward for employers?

Restrictive covenants: how can employers protect themselves in the digital age?

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Legal news, views, trends and tools for HR Professionals. Stay ahead. Go further