A really easy way for teams of people to stay in touch is the likes of WhatsApp and, whilst in principle there isn’t an issue, where employees or workers are using these services, employers need to take an interest.
Dorchester Chamber for Business members Porter Dodson offer advice on this topic.
You’ve probably seen the news in the last week that a number of police officers are under investigation following allegations of discriminatory messaging on social media platform, WhatsApp.
In particular, the officers are alleged to have shared racist jokes and memes and used highly racist language. Posts reportedly include inappropriate content about asylum seekers, flooding in Pakistan and members of the Royal Family.
It’s the kind of situation which we find ourselves advising upon more and more frequently given the blurring of lines between work and home following the pandemic. A really easy way for teams of people to stay in touch is the likes of WhatsApp and, whilst in principle there isn’t an issue, where employees or workers are using these services, employers need to take an interest.
We’re not suggesting you insist on being a member of every group going, or even check the content yourself (who has got time for that?!) but there are some basic things you should do to prevent issues arising and put yourself in a better position where someone acts inappropriately.
Why? Well, employers are generally responsible for what their employees do, and this can extend to conduct outside of work time if the conduct is sufficiently linked to work activities. A team WhatsApp chat can easily fall into this category and, all too often, the ‘work’ chat strays into non-work chat. Things can be misconstrued and even comments or jokes which are intended to be light-hearted (we’ll purposely avoid the ‘banter’ word) can cause offence. As you hopefully know, when it comes to harassment claims, the intention isn’t the be all and end all; if offence is actually caused then we have a problem in more ways than one.
Takeaway messages from this update?
• Social media isn’t ‘private’. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise! Anything committed to digital paper is traceable and shareable;
• Employers have to set boundaries and make clear what is and is not acceptable (Yes, we appreciate it feels like teaching a fish how to swim but if you want an easy win, here it is); and
• Employer action is not contingent on criminal culpability. It’s usually acceptable and preferable to take disciplinary action long before any police involvement is concluded.
If you need help with a conduct matter arising from social media use, support with drafting appropriate and effective policies and procedures or just want to understand more, feel free to get in touch with one of the team. Laura Roper (porterdodson.co.uk)