Businesses have long recognised the benefits of social media in strengthening their brand awareness. Sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn have all proven vital in growth strategies aimed at attracting and retaining audiences.

Social media and online business networking also holds many advantages for employees, allowing them to strengthen their contacts and, broaden their professional circle. However, a highly publicised incident regarding a senior lawyer Alexander Carter-Silk, and a female barrister Charlotte Proudman, has served of a reminder of the importance of having an understanding as to social media in employment law and the need to have a robust social media policy in place.

Carter-Silk allegedly responded to Proudman’s request to connect via LinkedIn, replying with a message in which he said: “I appreciate this is probably horrendously politically incorrect but that is a stunning picture!!! You definitely win the prize for best LinkedIn picture I have ever seen.” Proudman firmly rebuffed Carter-Silk’s message, calling his conduct both ‘unacceptable and misogynistic’, proceeding to post the exchange on Twitter gaining national media attention.

Although dividing public opinion, the dispute has placed the focus on the developing area of employment law issues in social media, forcing the spotlight on employers and a wide range of matters including recruitment, vicarious liability, human rights, and reputational issues. The incident has also highlighted concerns regarding cyber bullying, harassment and the effect of remarks made in social media on employers.

What lessons can employers learn from Carter-Silk’s so called unprofessional use of social media?

1. The rules of conduct regarding appropriate behaviour do not end once you leave the office. Sites such as LinkedIn are designed specifically for professional networking and should used be accordingly.

2. Compliments should strictly be limited to an individual’s efforts and achievements – be that academic or professional. Just as employers have polices in place regarding work place equality and sexism, similar rules should be applied to social networking. In a professional circle some would regard it as highly inappropriate to comment on an individual’s appearance, even in a positive manner as Carter-Silk discovered.

3. Have appropriate social media policies in place. Ensure related policies and procedures such as disciplinary rules and anti-harrassment interrelate and work with these to afford your company flexibility when having to deal with such matters. Having a social media policy in place can clarify any queries an employees may have regarding online networking. As highlighted by the above incident, misuse of private accounts can be potentially damaging to a person’s image and consequently their employers reputation. Carter-Silk’s Firm Brown Rudnick has issued a statement to the press addressing the issue, assuring Proudman and the public of their commitment to gender equality.

4. Employers should consider the wider employment law issues in social media, including the ownership of data created during the course of work on social media such as LinkedIn and restrictive convenants and social networking solicitation; obtaining employment and HR advice and guidance.

Employment and HR issues arising from matters involving social media can quickly escalate, which bearing in mind social networks can extend to millions, have the potential be highly damaging to a business and its owners. In this highly publicised dispute, both parties have faced considerable public backlash for their conduct, reflecting poorly on their professional image. It is crucial employers adopt a proactive approach; obtain advice on this developing area of law and put the necessary mechanisms in place to safeguard their business and minimise incidents like this.

Here at Farleys Solicitors our specialist Employment Law and HR team have seen a growth in HR and employment matters involving social media and are actively advising on such matters daily. Our team can provide support, guidance, training and have experience drafting bespoke social media policies and procedures. For further information on how our expert lawyers can assist you call 0845 050 1958. Alternatively please complete an online enquiry form.