Should an Employer be concerned about employee’s conduct on Social Media?


The social media revolution has changed the way we relate with the world around us. It has changed the way we communicate with ourselves. It has changed the dynamics of romantic and intimate relationships. And so has it affected the relationship between an employer and employee.

We are all busy out there “liking”, commenting, disagreeing, debating, trolling, acting as spoilers, hurling insults, making sarcastic and reckless comments, and so on. While at it, should we be concerned about the security of our jobs? In other words, should an employer be concerned about what an employee does on social media? Especially when the employer is using his own computer, smart phone and time? The answer is Yes, Yes and Yes.

Take away social media for a moment

Employers have always been concerned about their reputation.  Employers want to be perceived as living up to high standards, and, of course, being politically neutral. The conditions of service for some companies have strict rules of engagement with traditional media. So, an employee whose conduct runs counter to the values of her employer is likely to get the sack. It does not matter if the conduct in question is within or outside working hours.

Remember that the current Minister for Communications, Ursula Owusu Ekuful, was once an employee of Zain Ghana- a Telecoms operator then. The telecoms operator, in 2009, terminated her employment contract. Reason? Because Zain considered her political activism on radio and television embarrassing to it. Even though she filed a suit challenging her termination, it has emerged that the matter has been settled.

The case law suggests that an employee is free to do whatever she pleases on social media so long as his activities do not in any way undermine his employer

Social media is no different from radio and television. It is just a step ahead and more accessible; which means more of us stand the risk of being fired. But what does the law say?

The case law suggests that an employee is free to do whatever she pleases on social media so long as his activities do not in any way undermine his employer, colleagues, supervisors or the institution as a whole. Sometimes, all it takes is a “like”.

In a Canadian case, an employee posted that his employers business was being run by “crooks” and that they were “ripping off customers”. The employee was sacked. The termination was based on the fact that the employees Facebook comments amounted to insubordination and were damaging to the employer’s reputation.

In another case, an employer terminated the employment of an employee who had a personal blog that contained racist and offensive material, including photos of a Nazi paraphernalia. The termination was done notwithstanding the fact that there was a formal apology from the employee. The case turned on the fact that the employer’s identity was disclosed on the blog and there was the potential for a negative impact on the employer’s business and reputation by being associated with the blogs offensive conduct.

In yet another case, an employee wrote an article entitled “Aliens around the Coffee Table” in which she made mocking remarks about her supervisors, co-workers, and management calling them “imbeciles and idiot savants”. Although the employee used pseudonyms, it was fairly easy to tell who she was referring to. Her employment was terminated. Her co-workers testified that they were offended by the contents of the blog and, as a result, they would have a difficult time working with her.

In 2014, an active social media user, Kwame Gyan, who was also the Brands and Communications Manager for Airtel was suspended for posting on his private Facebook page: “I wish we had guts like the people of Ukraine”. The comment was made after the then Ukrainian President, Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in what has become known as the “February Revolution”. Some concluded that the statement amounted to treason.

What should you do?

Think in terms of consequences.

Before you post anything (especially work related), think of the likely consequences that your post may have on the reputation of your employer. Don’t think you can seek shelter under euphemisms, pseudonyms and ambiguities. Think twice before you post any comment on social media regarding a colleague, supervisor or employer. Think twice again before you like any comment which may either directly or indirectly affect your employer’s business relations or reputation.

Find out if your organisation has a social media policy. If they do, find out the details. If they don’t, be guided by the rules of courtesy, decency and discretion. If you are having work place challenges, the last place you should turn to is social media.

Hopefully, these may help you in navigating the challenges of using social media in a way that does not hurt your current or future employment prospects.

GB&F Magazine

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