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With the popularity of social media sky rocketing in recent years, employers have been forced to deal with a variety of new issues previously unimaginable to them.
Whereas in the past, employees would discuss their office politics and air their grievances with management or colleagues by complaining to a friend or family member in private, today, employees are increasingly turning to their social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram being chief among them) to vent their frustrations.
This means that the grumblings of upset employees are being published to a much wider audience than ever before. This has the obvious effect of having the potential to damage the reputation of the employer or defaming a colleague.
An employee’s conduct is often regarded as a reflection of his employer and as such, it is imperative that the employer ensures that the employee does not conduct himself in any way that may amount to negative publicity or a finding of vicarious liability against the company.
In the case of Sedick v Krisray , several employees were dismissed for Facebook posts that referenced their employer in an unfavourable light.
Their posts were deemed damaging to the reputation of the employer and opened up the possibility of the employer suffering business harm.
Despite arguing that the posts were made on personal Facebook accounts, the court ruled that Facebook remains part of the public domain and anyone could have access to them, including potential customers, clients or competing businesses.
The court ruled that although employees have certain rights, such as the right to freedom of speech and privacy, the company’s good name needs to be protected and their right to dignity trumped the employee’s right to freedom of speech.
In South Africa, the general position is that nothing posted online is protected by privacy laws and thus, as a general rule, one should never post anything negative about their employer or run the risk of disciplinary action being taken against them regardless of whether or not the post is on a private social media account or not.
As it stands, no legislation currently exists which deals specifically with the abuse of social media. This has led to the advent of “Social Media Policies” being implemented in the workplace to safeguard the interests of the employer and ensure that the employee is completely aware of the rules regarding social media usage regarding the workplace.
It is vital that the employer trains his staff in social media management so as to avoid any possible liabilities arising from misuse and to avoid employees claiming ignorance of the rules of social media in the workplace. Employees should be aware that what they post on private social media accounts, can lead to severe real life consequences.
For legal assistance, please contact our attorneys in Cape Town.
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