Can a company punish an employee basing on social media posts?

Friday January 01 2021
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Caroline Mboijana

By Caroline Mboijana

 Dear Caroline,

It is December and naturally, people in employment tend to feel like they should be away from work. I work as an administrator and I receive a lot of requests for sick leaves. However, since many of them are on social media, I see them enjoying life and splashing it online. Is a company allowed to police an employee basing on what they have posted online? Prossie
 
Dear Prossie,
By this time of the year and more so in 2020, all employees are exhausted. It’s been a challenging 2020 with many employees having been confined in their homes and for many not having any social interaction with either friends or family. Letting loose and meeting up for drinks, dinners and gatherings is understandable.  While we can empathise with the situation, I believe there’s a lot to be said of an employee who “calls in sick”,   who then goes out for a good night on the town and then posts picture on their social media platforms.

What your colleagues are doing is wrong and automatically questions their integrity and honesty. Furthermore, it’s a clear breach of policy that’s been granted to employees to help them when in need, either to seek medical attention and or time off for recovery to full health. Many companies respect people’s privacy and do not monitor or police staff based on their social media posts etc.

However, if their posts result in bringing to light unethical behaviour, then companies have an obligation to investigate and address the concerns their posts are raising. You need to remember if staff are behaving in this manner that deviates from organisation policy and nothing is done to address the issue, it has an impact on the level of trust within the organisation.

Given the impact of social media, many organisations now take a tough stand on making sure questionable social media behaviour is addressed.  In some cases  and depending on the gravity of the issues, it can result in summary dismissal, especially if it brings the company’s name into disrepute.  

Like I shared in a previous column, in this day and age your social media activity is designed to be visible both publicly and privately and therefore it is impossible to not leave a digital footprint of your activities. Social media usage raises the question of what you consider private and personal communication and if that aligns with your employers’ policies. If the behaviour is not aligned with the company policy then the company will address it as it deems fit.

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Caroline Mboijana,
Managing Director,
The Leadership Team (U)
cmboijana@gmail.com

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