When can you dismiss an employee for social media use?

by Miklos Bolza17 Dec 2015
In the event of inappropriate social media use, in what situations can HR dismiss someone and what legal conditions should be followed prior to terminating that individual?
 
HRD talked to Julia Yeo, employment law specialist at Clyde & Co, to find out more.
 
The easiest way to prepare for these scenarios is to have a social media policy in place, she said. In this way, the firm can deal with improper usage in accordance with the disciplinary process outlined within.
 
“If the company has no social media policy, the misuse can still be disciplinable if it flouts some other rules,” Yeo added.
 
This may include engaging in social media during work hours or harassing colleagues with online comments.
 
“If a post amounts to serious misconduct, for example posting highly confidential company information online, it can justify summary dismissal.”
 
However, Yeo urged HR to conduct a thorough investigation to verify the authorship of the post and the circumstances leading to its creation prior to taking action.
 
The employer should also be careful only to act upon posts which are public and which have a real connection to the employee’s workplace or industry.
 
“An employer should not intrude into clearly personal space of the employee,” Yeo said. “If the post is done outside office hours, and is intended for private group, the employer should not interfere.”
 
In the event of a post inadvertently becoming public, there may be grounds for dismissal, she added, especially if it has caused damage to the employer’s reputation.
 
However, she stressed that engaging in illegal or questionable methods of monitoring a worker’s social media use, such as installing spyware, should always be avoided.
 
A termination may also be illegal if it stems from a post that is simply an expression of opinion with no reasonable connection to the employee’s workplace.
 
“If an employee works as an engineer … and he posts a reasoned argument against a particular social situation, there would not be reason to terminate him even if his posting went viral,” Yeo said.
 
Relevant Singaporean laws to consider when dealing with social media use at work include:
  • Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) Advisory Guidelines on Employment: Collecting data without consent from publicly available sources is acceptable
  • Workplace Health and Safety Act: Failing to stop harassment is failing to provide a safe working environment
  • Sedition Act: Publishing seditious materials that incite hatred towards the government, judiciary, races, classes, etc is forbidden
  • Penal Code: Online actions that foster hatred between religious groups, insight violence, or distribute obscene materials are illegal
  • Public Order Act: Using online media to organise an illegal assembly or procession is against the law
  • Computer Misuse and Cybersecurity Act: The unauthorised use and mishandling or electronic data is forbidden
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