With so many people using different platforms to connect and exchange information, social media has become an indispensable component of our personal and professional lives. However, as we have observed more frequently over the past few years, employees must exercise caution in what they post on social media because it may reflect poorly on the business they work for (employers themselves may be held liable), violate social media policies at work, and result in dismissal. So, considering your actions before making any post is generally a good idea.
A person's social media conduct may lead to their dismissal from work. The employer will first consider the severity and extent of the reputational damage. An employee's behaviour can be linked to reputational damage. Because you still represent the company whether or not you are physically present in the workplace, many employers have zero-tolerance policies regarding remarks that are homophobic, sexist, or racist. In a sense, you are an unofficial ambassador for the company/employer and an extension of it. Therefore, you risk facing disciplinary action if you publish something insulting or inappropriate on social media, even in your personal capacity, outside of working hours using your own device.
In the case of Sedick & another v Krisray (Pty) Ltd, both the operations manager and bookkeeper were dismissed for bringing the company's name into disrepute by publishing derogatory comments about the owner of the company on Facebook. The employees claimed that the employer breached their right to privacy by accessing their profiles on Facebook. They further argued that their comments did not identify any person or organization and could not have damaged the company's reputation.
The commissioner found that former or current employees of the company that accessed the profiles of the two employees would have had no difficulty identifying the person they referred to in their communications. The dismissal of the two employees was therefore found to be fair. Moreover, it is evident from this case that a dismissal under such circumstances could be appropriate, provided that the employer follows the correct procedures and that the evidence used against the employee has not been illegally obtained in the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-related Information Act. Therefore, companies must ensure they have procedures regarding monitoring and interception of workplace communications. Developing a social media policy in addition to the company's electronic communications policy can be required. A precise definition of "social media" and instructions on how to use these open forums must be included in such a policy.
To ensure social media conduct does not wreak reputational damage to the employer, there are vital guidelines that every employee should consider when using social media for official work purposes. First, the social media platform must be an approved site that the company uses for official work purposes. The message the company wants to convey to other users must be clearly defined. In addition, posts must at all times be legal, ethical and respectful. Furthermore, employees may not engage in online communication activities, which could bring the company into disrepute. Finally, pay particular attention to copyright laws and not disclose confidential information. Only the official company logo and branding may be used on all social media posts.
Employers must apply a social media policy to ensure that all employees know the ins and outs of the company's social media rules, and meetings or seminars must be held. Being transparent about the grievance processes and disciplinary codes is also critical. The company's risk of gaining a bad reputation should be as low as feasible. Having said that, a company can nonetheless discipline an employee even if it is unclear about its policies. Encourage your employer to establish social media policies if it does not already have them in place. Also, advise employees to refrain from sharing anything that might get them into problems at work.
Written by Sia Dube, Attorney, SchoemanLaw