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Reputational damage: preventative measures for employers

18 April 2018

Protecting your company’s reputation is essential but how can HR professions ensure any damage is kept to a minimum?

  • Implement a robust social media policy

Employers should implement a robust social media policy that sets out clear rules on social media use. For example, a policy can remind staff not to assume that comments they make on Twitter or Facebook are private.

The policy should also make clear that breaking the rules may lead to disciplinary action, including dismissal.

  • Deal with inappropriate comments on social media

Where an employee has posted inappropriate comments about the company on social media, the employer should collect evidence and take steps to remove the material quickly by asking the employee to do so. The employer may also consider instigating disciplinary action.

It is vital that the employer’s policy highlights that any personal use of social media that impacts the company may result in disciplinary action including dismissal.

  • Train managers in proper recruitment practices

It is important that managers manage the process following a selection decision in a professional manner, especially when informing someone that their application has been unsuccessful, as a disgruntled applicant may reproduce it on social media.

Recent examples of recruitment mishaps have attracted widespread media interest, although they did not involve obvious breaches of employment law. One case involved a job applicant tweeting a screengrab of a text message, in which the employer gave a sarcastic explanation of why she was unsuccessful, together with a cry-laughing emoji.

  • Warn staff of expected conduct outside the workplace

Misconduct outside the workplace can adversely affect a company’s public image. Line managers should warn employees about their behaviour in advance of a workplace or public event.

If an employee has committed a criminal offence outside work, the employer should consider dismissal only where continued employment would seriously damage the organisation’s reputation.

Relationships outside work can also cause reputational issues, for example, where an employee maintains a relationship with someone who is accused of a criminal offence.

In Governing Body of Tubbenden Primary School v Sylvester, the employer argued that the reason for dismissing a teacher, who continued her friendship with another teacher arrested for possessing indecent images of children, was the potential damage to the school’s reputation.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal accepted that this was a potentially fair reason for dismissal.

  • Consider adverse publicity before fighting tribunal claims

From February 2017, employment tribunal decisions are available online and can, therefore, attract negative media interest or put off job applicants from working for the organisation. For example, a claim may involve a line manager who has behaved badly or acted in a discriminatory manner.

It is even more important, therefore, for employers to consider the potential for reputational damage at the outset when deciding whether or not to defend a tribunal claim.

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