Facebook at work

January 27th, 2009

I’m a great admirer of Pinsent Mason’s “Out-Law” website.  It’s a fascinating source of information law material. 

Today, there’s an opinion piece about the use of social networking sites by employees.  It argues that in some circumstances employers are entitled to control the use that employees make of sites such as Facebook, even outside working hours.    There is a risk of reputational damage:  for instance, a newspaper that aims for politically impartial journalism could be damaged if its writers reveal their own personal political views online.

Personal use of the internet during working time is a legitimate concern to employers – just as they may rightly be concerned about the use of the phone system for long private calls.  But what about curtailing employees’ freedom of expression and social interaction in their own time?  It is suggested that any employer who went down this route would need both a very strong justification, and a tightly-drawn policy that was clearly communicated to their employees.

In considering any specific case, careful consideration would need to be given by employers to how widely any objectionable material posted by an employee could be viewed – was it visible to a small group of friends, for instance, or to a network of millions of people?

There’s a much broader issue here.   Social networking is very widespread indeed among today’s student generation.  When they begin their working lives, will they find that their online activity impedes their search for a job?  Or that it comes back to haunt them later in their working lives? 

The reference for the opinion piece discussed above is at:

https://www.out-law.com//default.aspx?page=9738

For discussion of the issues that arise when an employer considers that an employee’s online activities are damaging to its reputation, see Pay v Lancashire Probation Service, available online at:

https://www.employmentappeals.gov.uk/Public/Upload/EAT1224021192003.doc

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