Joan Pettingill

Social media led to Danny Baker sacking - what do employees need to be aware of?

“Saturday mornings will never be the same again!” So went the lament of those for whom tuning in to BBC Radio 5 on Saturday mornings was a quasi-religious automation.

The recent sacking of Danny Baker from his weekend breakfast show was cause for consternation across the nation and cries of: “political correctness gone mad!” Whether we believe that Mr Baker crossed a line with his social media post, or agree with his die-hard fans, the whole episode raises interesting and important questions about our use of social media and its potential impact on our everyday lives. We’ve already seen countless political careers ruined by social media activity, where evidence of historic misdemeanours and tomfoolery has resurfaced, casting doubt on individuals’ credibility and the “squeaky clean” persona the role demands. Often this has led to high-profile resignations. Danny Baker’s post was widely interpreted as being racially offensive and insensitive. There’s little doubt it was the latter, and he was unambiguously sacked by the BBC for his Tweet. Is it an example of Auntie’s overcautious protectionism, or gross misconduct that warrants dismissal? Social media posting may seem like a private domain, where one’s views are one’s own and you should be free to air them like damp laundry. Unfortunately, that would depend on a number of factors, such as who you work for, what role you have, your organisation’s social media policy and more. One way in which people routinely fall foul of social media is by over-using it during working hours. While it’s unlikely to be a sacking offence in the first instance, repeatedly wasting the time your employers pay for, isn’t going to win you a promotion any time soon. Another surprisingly common mistake, is “throwing a sickie” and then posting a selfie on Instagram from the football stadium or the like. Most employers, I’m sure, would find this fairly irritating. It could potentially be a sacking offence because, ultimately, it may amount to fraud depending on the type of illness involved.

The greyest of grey areas, is about differentiating from what’s public and what’s private. Can you lose your job because of your political views, your intolerances or prejudices? The answer, I’m afraid is equally grey. It would, in some respects depend on your company’s policies, although to some extent political views are a protected characteristic – a “brexiteer” boss wouldn’t necessarily be lawful in dismissing their “remainer” assistant, for example. But an employee of a Jewish rights organisation, who shared an anti-Semitic cartoon, would be on much less sure footing. And of course, there’s a further complication – the posts made might even be against the law if, for example, they insight hatred, are libellous or defamatory. In that case, if criminal charges were brought, an employer could also be well within its rights to dismiss. Of course, the surest way to avoid falling into the social media trap is to keep schtum. We have a saying in Yorkshire: “if in doubt, say nowt.”

Joan Pettingill Lupton Fawcett LLP

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