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Gary Lineker and the “anti-government” tweet

Social media and the workplace

It was the story that dominated the headlines last weekend.   On Friday, Gary Lineker, was suspended from his role as Match of the Day presenter after criticising the language used by ministers regarding the government’s asylum policy.  This, the BBC claimed, was a potential breach of their rules on impartiality.   By Saturday, the row had escalated and several of Gary Lineker’s colleagues at the BBC refused to present Match of the Day in solidarity with him, resulting in widespread disruption to the BBC’s sports programming.   It was therefore not too much of a surprise that by Monday, Gary Lineker had been reinstated and the BBC issued a public apology for the chaos caused.

The story, of course, does not end there.  The BBC has announced that there will be an independent review of its internal social media guidelines on impartiality.  Comparisons are being made in the media between the treatment of Gary Lineker and other BBC presenters who have, similarly, voiced political opinions in the past.  Concerns are also being raised about the impact of the row on the BBC’s wider reputation.   

The case provides rich pickings from an employment law perspective.   In particular, it highlights how important it is to have clear workplace policies about the use of social media. 

The storm caused by the BBC’s handling of the affair could, potentially, have been avoided if clearer guidelines had been in place.   As it was, the BBC’s chief admitted that there were grey areas in its social media policy – due, in part, to the difficulty of balancing the corporation’s need to maintain impartiality with the need to uphold freedom of expression.  

An added complication for the BBC is that a lot of its presenters, like Gary Lineker, are freelance contractors, and therefore likely to have other business interests outside the BBC.  Many of its presenters also, again like Gary Lineker, can claim to be well known public figures in their own right, independent of the BBC.  This combination therefore limits the BBC’s ability to impose strict rules on and exert control over what such presenters say and do outside of their work for the BBC.  

Although the BBC is not an organisation that tends to have “run of the mill” employment issues (I wager that few businesses can claim to have a celebrity on its payroll), the case highlights the need for all businesses – big or small – to have clear social media guidelines for its workforce.

The following are our top tips for minimising the risk to your business and reputation posed by employee use of social media:

  • Make sure your contracts with staff include a clause which states that staff must observe your social media policy.  Alternatively, set out your rules on social media use in the contract itself.
  • Implement a social media policy which sets out guidelines for social media use in the context of work and makes it clear what staff can say/cannot say about your business/your staff and/or your customers on their personal social media accounts. 
  • If you do not wish staff to disclose where they work on their social media profile or social media postings, make sure this is stated in your social media policy. 
  • If you allow employees to use personal social media accounts for business purposes, make sure you are clear what the rules are for posting content and that their profile and any content must be in keeping with the professional image you expect them to present to customers and colleagues.
  • Ensure that you inform staff that any social media activity they engage in that is harmful to your business or its reputation – whether conducted inside or outside working hours – will lead to disciplinary action, and in serious cases could result in dismissal.
  • Monitor compliance with your social media policy, making sure that any monitoring activity is carried out transparently, in line with your data protection obligations and with due regard to any rights/expectations of privacy that employees may have in relation to personal communications.
  • Be measured in relation to the social media restrictions you impose – for example, an outright ban on staff mentioning your business in social media could mean you are missing out on an opportunity to promote and create a positive image of your business on social media.

If you have any workplace issues involving the use of social media or if you would like a bespoke social media policy prepared for your business, please get in touch with us on 01983 897003.

Photo by Souvik Banerjee on Unsplash

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The information contained in this blog post is provided for guidance and is a snapshot of the law at the time it is written. It is provided for your information only and should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice that it specific to your particular circumstances.

The guidance should not be relied upon in any decision making process. It is strongly recommended that you seek advice before taking action.


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