Employment Tribunals often hear claims brought by employees alleging that their employer has breached their right to a private life. However, the potential flaw in this argument is that something done in the employees’ private life may have had a negative impact on their suitability for their job and a negative impact on their employer’s reputation, rendering any action taken by their employer to be fair.
The more distant acts are from the employees’ job, the harder it will be for the employer to argue there is a reputational risk. However, as social media has shown, personal life and work life are not completely separate, and the crossover can catch employees’ out. Conflict can occur between out of work actions and the employer’s reputation, and the employer needs to ensure that their employees understand the risk.
In the case of Lawrence v Secretary of State for Justice, Ms Lawrence was employed as a delivery manager and she was dismissed by her employer for acts in her private life which involved creating erotic images. The Employment Tribunal disagreed that these acts were part of her private life and entirely separate from her work life and stated that she had a senior role and the employer was entitled to expect higher standards from such roles.
There is also a higher standard expected of employees when they are in a client facing role, this means they have extra responsibilities to uphold their employer’s reputation. In the case of Brown v Town Centre Car Parks, Mr Brown was a car park attendant. This meant he had contact with the public and wore a branded uniform, and his actions were likely to have an effect on the reputation of the business. Mr Brown was dismissed due to a complaint of bullying and harassment and the Employment Tribunal held that the employer was reasonable in finding that their employees conduct was within the public domain and affected his suitability for the role.
Many employees may think they can use their social media profiles as they see fit, and discuss any topic they desire. However, if they choose to discuss work or their employer, there is a risk that this will affect their suitability for employment. In Plant v API Microelectronics Ltd the Employment Tribunal held that the dismissal of an employee over comments she made about her employer on Facebook, was fair and within the range of reasonable responses. Mrs Plant was aware there was a social media policy in place and accepted that she had breached this policy.
Social media and the right to a private life is becoming more of an issue due to the growth and development of social media over the last few years. It is important as an employer to ensure you have sufficient policies in place to assist you should a situation like this arise. If you would like to know more about what policies you should have in place, contact our Employment specialists at FTA Law on 0330 088 2275 or [email protected].
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