The crisis which engulfed the BBC following Gary Lineker “stepping away” from Match of the Day over Twitter comments about refugees was a ‘fiasco’ which could probably have been easily avoided.
That’s the verdict of Tom Scaife, Employment Partner with leading North West business solicitors Baines Wilson. He deals with increasing numbers of cases involving social media disputes between firms and their staff and says that BBC’s difficulties over the last week have been an example of how NOT to handle social media in the workplace.
“First, Gary Lineker is not an employee and the BBC’s own editorial guidelines – which are now to be reviewed – say that where somebody is, for example, a sports presenter there is a low risk of personal opinions on their personal profiles being conflated with the views of the BBC.
“If Lineker was an employee, the advice would have been that you can’t realistically expect to take disciplinary action because it doesn’t appear to be a breach under your own guidelines,” said Tom.
But he added that the confusion generated by the Lineker case should not discourage businesses from taking robust action on rogue social media use by employees.
“Companies looking to control personal usage of social media should have a social media policy, clearly defining what is and isn’t acceptable. They would avoid the common mistake of making knee-jerk reactions, disciplining an employee due to “reputational damage” for example without any plausible evidence of such damage.
“Case law on social media is fascinating as the line between private life and work is now so blurry but the expectations set by policies and the extent to which the employee’s profile or posts implicate the employer are highly relevant.
“Employers can certainly take disciplinary action if there is a connection to the employment, or derogatory comments are made about the company, colleagues, or customers.”
Any company that is concerned about their employee’s social media use is advised to consider and document their position now, rather than dealing with it backwards when something is posted that is disagreeable.
The number of disputes between employees and their staff involving social media is still increasing, according to Baines Wilson.
And for Tom, the Gary Lineker row can spur employers to take stock and give thought to how staff social media should be managed.
He said: “The BBC row has been something of a fiasco. The inconsistencies in their guidelines and treatment of other on-air talent were always going to make it difficult to sustain their position, even if only in the court of public opinion.”