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November 20, 2013 11:04 pm

A ‘Twitter disclaimer’ might not prevent dismissal

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Your Questions Answered: a reader wants to tweet without putting their job at risk

I have just started using Twitter. It is mostly for work but I would also like to include personal comments that are not necessarily the views of my employer. Are there any rules and guidelines around this?

Steve Kuncewicz, intellectual property, media and social media lawyer at Bermans law firm, says:

It is encouraging to hear you asking this question. Recent incidents involving the use of social media to send death threats to those advocating the inclusion of a picture of Jane Austen on the £10 note suggest the public has some way to go in getting to grips with the law.

It applies to what you do online in the same way as it would offline.

Finding a balance between being professional and being interesting (or controversial) on Twitter is difficult, especially if you are going to tweet personal and work-related views from the same account.

You need to consider employment-related issues, such as bringing your employer into disrepute – and even more seriously, they could be vicariously liable for what you say in the event of, for example, a defamation or harassment claim, or even certain criminal offences.

You might also fall foul of various human rights or data protection issues by posting a third party’s personal information online or unwittingly disclosing confidential information.

Adding a disclaimer to your profile making it clear that retweets do not equate to endorsements and that your views are not necessarily those of your employer is a good start, as is not using your employer’s name in your user name. But there is no substitute for common sense in terms of what you tweet.

Many businesses now have a social media policy outlining what you can and cannot say online, so that is always a good place to start.

Jennifer Smith, associate at JMW Solicitors, says:

We have all seen the disclaimers – “my tweets are my own”, “views expressed are my own” or “RTs are not an endorsement”. But such disclaimers do little to protect either an individual or their employer in the event of a controversial communication via social media.

A Twitter disclaimer is not going to prevent an employer from dismissing an employee who says something that reflects badly, and it’s not going to prevent people from associating an employee’s views with their employer.

Social media policies in the workplace are gaining much more attention and the reality is that in all of our interactions, we are always representing our employers. It is therefore important we always act professionally, thoughtfully and in a manner that reflects well upon our employers.

The law has yet to catch up with social media and one of the most common debates surrounding Twitter is whether people can successfully combine a personal and professional profile. My advice? Before you tweet, remember that everything you say could be perceived to be the view of your employer – whether you intend it to or not.

Twitter raises important issues about privacy, free speech and individual rights and responsibilities. Companies must be prudent and ensure their IT and social media policy is both flexible and up to date, and employees should request written guidance from their employer on using social media for business purposes.

Just for the record – none of the ideas expressed here are shared, supported, or endorsed in any way by my employer.

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Letter in response to this article:

Employers had better back off / From Mr Victor Anderson

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