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Employment law specialist Andrew Lightburn, an associate at BHP Law, comments on the potential dangers of irresponsible use of social media

ByDave Stopher

Sep 11, 2016

 

An interesting story developed this week concerning conflict of interest in the workplace. A local newspaper employed a reporter to cover the news about Sunderland Football Club. However, it became apparent from the reporter’s historic social media that in fact they were a staunch Newcastle United fan who had made derogatory comments about Sunderland FC and their fans in the past. Following a large number of complaints to the newspaper the reporter was removed from his role.

This story identifies two key employment issues. The first concerns the significance of social media and in particular historic comments made on social networks.

There are other examples in the football world, for example the Premier League footballer who had tweeted homophobic comments in 2012 before he became famous; when they were shared and subsequently came to light, he was forced to issue a public apology.

The second issue is how a conflict of interest can arise in the workplace where an employee’s publicly held views are inconsistent with their role or that of their employer. In serious situations this could result in dismissal.

The law protects a person’s beliefs if they amount to a religious or philosophical belief in law. Although some in this region might claim football to be an unofficial religion, and there are blurred lines for example where Celtic and Rangers are concerned, the law does not apply in the same way to sport.

Many employers these days will undertake due diligence of prospective employees’ social media posts and shares to provide insight into applicants’ behaviours and to avoid any such own goals.

It is another reason, if it were needed, that everyone should take care around their social media activity.