Be careful what you tweet – law specialist

2010-09-30 07:52

Employees needed to be careful about what they wrote on Facebook, Twitter or other social networking sites, a law specialist warned.

“Employees may end up facing dismissal if what they say on social networking sites impacts on their employer’s business or the relationship between them and their employer or colleagues,” said Johan Botes, a director of employment practice at Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr.

“Employees may feel a false sense of anonymity or privacy when they vent on social networking sites. They may labour under the misapprehension that they can blog or post to their hearts’ content as their social networking communication does not fall within the control or domain of their employer.”

However, in reality, employees had been taken to task for writing negative remarks about their employer or colleagues on sites such as Facebook, said Botes.

“Even where the online rant is not directed at an employer, employees should take great care in behaving in the public eye in a manner that will not be seen to destroy harmonious working relationships with their employer or colleagues.”

As a rule, employees who used social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter as a forum for expressing their views should not say anything on those platforms that they would hesitate to say at the “monthly staff meeting”, warned Botes.

Many South African employers were still not sure about their legal position where employees misbehaved outside the work environment, including how they conducted themselves on social networking sites.

“The law holds that employees may not act in a manner designed to destroy harmonious working relations with their employer or colleagues. They owe a duty of good faith to their employers, which includes the obligation to further their employer’s business interests.

“In using a website in the public domain to communicate with others, the actions of the employee may affect the business of his employer or the working relationship between him and his employer or colleagues,” Botes said.

“This opens the door for the employer to take disciplinary action against the employee for what otherwise would have been the employee’s private actions or falling outside the reach of the employer’s control.”

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