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Not just a Game: The perils of twitter in the workplace

13th February 2015

In the first case of its kind, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has recently considered the misuse of twitter by an employee.

The employee worked for the gaming store retailer, Game Retail Limited, as a risk and loss prevention investigator. During the course of his employment he opened a twitter account, primarily intended for private use. However, he elected to ‘follow’ around 100 Game stores, ironically in order to monitor inappropriate use of twitter by other employees. In turn, the employee was ‘followed’ by 65 of the stores and went on to post a number of tweets that were deemed offensive by another employee, including criticism of golfers, dentists and Newcastle supporters amongst others.

Game then dismissed the employee for gross misconduct. Although the employee was initially successful in bringing a claim for unfair dismissal, Game successfully appealed that decision.

The EAT referred to the fact that the offensive tweets could be read by the 65 stores and also by existing customers of Game. At no stage had the employee attempted to restrict his privacy settings and his account was effectively in the public domain. The EAT also pointed out that the employee had failed to consider having two separate accounts, to help distinguish between private and work views. In its judgment the EAT also recognised the need to preserve an employer’s ability to remove or reduce reputational risk from social media communications. Interestingly, an employee may still face disciplinary action if harmful comments are made even through a private account.

Although businesses may welcome the decision by the EAT, this case still serves as a timely reminder of the importance of a clear social media policy to assist the understanding of employers and employees. In today’s interconnected digital world, reputational damage can be done by an employee quite swiftly which means that employers should look at protecting their business by introducing clear rules on the use of social media, implementing those with staff and policing the rules fairly to help ensure maximum protection from the damage that can be caused, including having to defend any employment tribunal claims.

For more advice on employment law aspects of social media use, please contact AlistairS@bhplaw.co.uk or OliverH@bhplaw.co.uk at BHP Law or call us on 0191 221 0898.