The BBC director general has threatened to suspend employees’ Twitter accounts if they do not abide by new social media guidelines. This is a result of concern that the BBC’s reputation for impartiality is being harmed by the actions of individuals who express political opinions on social media accounts. 

Any employer can and should put in place rules governing what constitutes acceptable use of social media in and out of work, and the consequences of breaching such rules. Many employers have had policies in place for many years. Such policies inform staff that conduct on personal social media may be taken into account as a disciplinary matter, and in some cases, can be deemed gross misconduct, allowing for dismissal without notice.

Whilst it is harder for employers to make a case based on what an employee does in their personal time, it is certainly not impossible to use evidence of a breach of social media policies in an individual's personal time to instigate disciplinary proceedings against them. Breaches of social media policies are increasingly being used to dismiss staff in appropriate circumstances where employers can show the conduct, even though outside of work, was of a very serious nature. If such behaviour has impacted on the employer or their reputatoin, it can mean there is a legitimate basis for a fair dismissal.

The clear message for employers is the need to have well-drafted policies governing the use of social media both inside and outside of working time.