Employee misuse of Twitter – when does private mean private?

Posted by: Clare Nicolaou Employment lawyer,  Novalex Solicitors

Photo of Clare Nicolaou - Employment law specialist
Clare Nicolaou

I recently took a case to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) with Game Retail Ltd where an employee had been dismissed for posting offensive comments on his private Twitter account.

Whilst none of the offensive tweets were directed at Game or any of its employees, this individual did use his Twitter account to follow a number of Game stores, some of whom followed him in return.

At the employment tribunal hearing the tribunal found that the claimant was using Twitter predominantly for his own personal use and in his own time, and that whilst the Tweets were offensive if viewed, there was no evidence to suggest that they had been viewed and that offence had been taken. Therefore it was not reasonable for Game to dismiss the employee.

The EAT disagreed and found, amongst other things, that there was a sufficient link between the claimant’s Twitter account and his work, given that he was using that account to follow stores and that one of Game’s employees had reported the offensive nature of the Tweets to Game in the first place. The claimant had made no attempt to restrict his Tweets from being seen by anyone other than his personal acquaintances and had not set up a separate account for his work.

This case is the first reported case of its kind.  It serves as a very useful reminder that employers should put in place and communicate to all employees a clearly worded social media policy that sets out exactly what conduct is considered acceptable or unacceptable, and makes it clear as to whether that extends to a person’s private social media account.

I have recently recorded a podcast discussing this case and giving some guidance to employers dealing with these issues.

Links to Podcast  and Case Summary

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