You should treat improper use of social media as you would any other type of alleged misconduct.
This would involve an investigation and consideration of suspension or other precautionary action followed by disciplinary action if appropriate.
Read Labour Relations Agency (LRA) advice on social media and the employment relationship.
Investigation into improper social media use
In certain cases, for example in cases involving alleged gross misconduct, consideration should be given to a brief period of suspension with full pay while an unhindered investigation into improper social media use is conducted.
You should also consider alternative actions which would be more acceptable to the employee yet serve the same purpose as a suspension, eg agreeing on a temporary transfer to other duties without loss of pay.
Any action taken, including suspension on full pay, should be reviewed frequently to ensure it is not delayed unnecessarily. It should be made clear that any action taken is neither considered as disciplinary action nor an indication of blame or guilt.
It is essential to have as much objectivity as possible so a different person should carry out the investigation than will carry out the disciplinary action, perhaps another manager or external consultant.
The investigation may involve taking witness statements, referring to other workplace policies and procedures and compiling a report on the findings.
After the investigation and disciplinary action to take
The employer can then decide the necessary action to take as follows:
- No case to answer so no further action required.
- Informal action is used to try and nip problems in the bud.
- Formal action ie warnings are taken when informal action has not brought about the improvement needed or a more serious offence has been committed where informal action is not appropriate.
- For a gross misconduct offence you could go straight to the dismissal stage, or if the procedure permits use action short of dismissal as an alternative penalty. This may include demotion or suspension without pay if allowed for in the contract of employment.
Improper social media use: disciplinary action
When taking formal disciplinary action, you should comply with the statutory dismissal/disciplinary procedure as set out in the LRA Code of Practice on Disciplinary Procedures.
This involves three steps:
Step 1: Statement of grounds for action and invitation to meeting:
The employer must provide to the employee a written statement of the alleged misconduct which has led to the consideration of formal disciplinary action or dismissal. The employer should invite the employee to a hearing to discuss the issue.
Step 2: Disciplinary hearing:
Prior to the hearing the employer should supply any information relevant to the allegation allowing the employee sufficient time to consider the detail and prepare their defence. After the meeting the employer should inform the employee of the decision and offer the right to appeal.
Step 3: Disciplinary appeal:
If the employee wishes to appeal he or she will inform the employer within five working days. The employer will invite the employee to a further hearing to discuss the appeal. The final decision will be communicated to the employee.
The employee has the right to be accompanied by a colleague or union representative at any formal disciplinary meeting.
Read more on disciplinary procedures, hearings and appeals.
You can also read further LRA advice on handling discipline and grievances at work.