The rapid growth of social media has given rise to the potential for abuse when it comes to reputation and competition.

Who owns a social media account

There is little clarity over who has the rights to ownership of accounts that have been used by an employee during working hours, on work computers, to promote an employer’s business. So suppose one of your bar staff ran a Facebook group ‘Live Music in Bars’, aiming to promote events you ran. If they then left to work for a rival and continued to administer that page, but now directing business to his new employer’s venture, what rights would you have over that group?

Risk of damage to reputation

Another area of concern is the potential for disgruntled (or purely unthinking) employees posting on social media in such as way as to cause damage to a brand’s reputation. Because of the reach of social media, bad news can carry very fast. We have previously reported the case of Preece v JD Wetherspoons Plc in which a duty manager made inappropriate comments on Facebook about customers which were seen by the sister of one of the customers mentioned.

Getting it right – top tips

Hospitality businesses should ensure that contracts of employment have been drafted with social media in mind.

  • Employment contracts should refer specifically to protecting the employer’s confidential information from disclosure or misuse both during employment after termination.
  • These must be consistent with social media policies – if there isn’t one in place, consider introducing one urgently.
  • Even if your staff do not have internet access at work, a social media policy should prohibit staff from bringing your business into disrepute – even if comments are made when not at work.
  • Confidentiality clauses and post-termination restrictions can be tailored to ensure they deal with social media; rights to social media accounts should be assigned to the employer to avoid scenarios such as the one above.
  • If a dispute arises, having relevant documentation in place will usually assist an employer who wishes to dismiss an employee for inappropriate use of the internet.
  • A good policy that is properly communicated to the workforce can make any disciplinary process far easier, less risky and less controversial in the workplace.

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The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the present time and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.