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You are here:>>Home>>Press>>Social media – the new frontier in the workplace
        
Social media – the new frontier in the workplace
        
The Irish Independent - March 4, 2015
        
Kristy Preece had just cleared the Ferry Boat Pub in Runcorn in Cheshire. The shift on May 24th, 2010, had been difficult – mainly because of two abusive customers called Brian and Sandra. Ms Preece, a shift manager, had been threatened with a cane. Not unreasonably, she asked the elderlies to leave the pub.

Under protest, they departed. In fact Sandra got into her car and drove home despite the fact that she had drank several brandies. But that wasn’t the end of the story. As Kristy wound down, she took to her Facebook account and began telling her friends about her ordeal.

Referring to the aforementioned Sandra, she posted a message at 9.17pm stating “f----- hag, I hope her hip breaks!” A fortnight later, her employer, JD Wetherspoons received a complaint from the couple’s daughter, Leslie Roache about the posting on Kristy’s private Facebook account.

On June 14th, 2010, and following a disciplinary investigation, Kristy Preece was
 dismissed from her job on the grounds that she had breached the company’s internet policy by lowering its reputation. The net result, said the investigating Mr Cripps, was a breakdown in trust and confidence.
      
The employment tribunal in Liverpool heard her appeal on January 18th, 2011. She argued that she had an unblemished work record and that her dismissal was disproportionate. Furthermore, she thought she was communicating with a restricted group comprising a handful of close friends – and not as was the case, the entire internet community.

Dismissal
But the tribunal upheld her dismissal and accepted that her actions constituted gross misconduct. Her right to freedom of expression under under Article 10 of the Convention on Human Rights did not prevent her dismissal because her action damaged the reputation of her employer.

This case draws into focus the new dimension which the internet and social media usage has brought to the workplace. But obstacles which didn’t exist before can be encountered by people in advance of commencing employment as Jenny can recall.

“I left the job interview with a good feeling,” says the software engineer who understandably didn’t want her surname used. “I felt my prospective employers were impressed by my work experience. I genuinely liked them.”

The feeling was mutual – until her prospective boss checked out Jenny’s Facebook page. They didn’t like the series of photographs of Jenny at her friend’s 30th birthday party. She was pictured having different types of fun involving alcohol, watersports and other activities which did not present her in a positive light.

Jenny didn’t get the job. The interviewers probably fall into the category of 81 per cent of employers who in a survey carried out by a big Irish law firm in 2013 said they would be negatively influenced by inappropriate material on job candidates’ social media profiles.

The workplace is now a conflict zone between employees’ rights to privacy, their freedom of expression and on the other hand, their employers’ entitlement to have their reputations protected.

This tension represents a new blurring of the boundary between a people’s public or work profile and their private lives. For human resources managers and their staff, sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Flickr are red-hot with controversy.

It’s new territory also for the courts who cannot seek guidance from any dedicated social media statute. When confronted with claims around competing interests of workers and their bosses, judges try to be as reasonable as possible and make decisions based on underlying rights and obligations.

Operate harmoniously
The competition in the clash of the different interests will never be eliminated. But it must be managed if various parties are to operate harmoniously. Of vital importance to employers and employees is the existence of a company internet policy. Such a policy must be fair, flexible and crucially, it must have a strong profile in the company’s daily operations.

Upon writing an internet policy, employers should notify their employees of the following:
Social media usage and the internet generally is a positive force. Employees should be encouraged to use it for legitimate productive purposes. Equally, they need to be warned about its destructive capacity;

Excessive use of social media for personal purposes during working hours can constitute misconduct;

Universal access
Employees’ social media profiles have universal access. They can be monitored legitimately by their employers;

Postings on social media sites can have a bearing on the commercial interests of the employer and can affect fellow employees, clients and other persons. Just because a message, photograph or video is posted from an employee’s privately owned smart-phone while on holidays does not mean it cannot be defamatory or otherwise dangerous;

Employees must take responsibility for social media postings and should use privacy settings carefully. Efforts should be made to separate personal and professional postings;

Employees should be advised to report suspect internet activity which might comprise hacking, bullying or the passing of commercially sensitive information;

Employees need to be made aware that reckless use of social media inside or outside working hours may have consequences including disciplinary proceedings. A link should be made to the company’s Grievance and Disciplinary Policy.
        
Ireland is in a minority of Western countries in not having mandatory paid paternity leave (the United States doesn't either, though the women don't fare much better there).

In stark contrast, Iceland offers a maximum of 91 paid leave days for dads, Norway 70, Sweden 60.
        
That's probably to be expected, what with the famous Scandinavian attitude to social services and gender parity. But move a little further down the list, and countries such as Spain (28), Slovenia (15), Azerbaijan (14) and Kenya (14) also put us in the ha'penny place.

Our nearest neighbours currently allow for 14 days too, which Labour leader Ed Milliband has pledged to double if his party wins the upcoming British general election.

Even Saudi Arabia, that bastion of old-fashioned machismo, outdoes Ireland - just about - with its solitary one paid day of paternity leave. (Surprisingly, the Netherlands only allows two.)

It also helps the mother; certainly with a newborn, they need time to rest, if nothing else. And from the man's perspective, it's important for the dads to be available, to take that time to connect with their child and get to know them.

"You'll never get the chance to experience something like that again. They should cherish that time."

The International Labour Organisation (a United Nations agency) also extols the virtues and benefits of mandatory paternity leave.

These include: helping employees achieve a healthy work-life balance; more successful child development through heavier paternal involvement in domestic life; and a greater recognition of men's parenting rights, and their responsibility to share unpaid caring and household work, which helps to break down traditional social attitudes and improve gender equality.

Interestingly, June points out that "internationally, it seems to be the case that where paid paternity leave is available, there's an issue with take-up - to the extent that some countries are actually obliging fathers to do so.

According to the Citizens Information resource website, paternity leave is not recognised in Irish employment law. This means that employers are not obliged to grant male employees any related leave, paid or unpaid, following the birth of their child.
Some employers, including the Civil Service, provide a period of paid leave for men following the birth or adoption

of a child - but this is a choice, not a legal requirement.

Male employees are, incidentally, entitled to unpaid parental leave. Both parents may take up to 18 weeks off from their job, to care for a child up to eight-years-old.

At the just-ended Labour conference in Killarney, the party pledged to introduce two weeks of paid paternity leave, in a Family Leave Bill scheduled to be passed by the end of this year.

A month ago the Junior Minister Ó Ríordáin had told Prime Time, "I am as confident as I can be at this stage that there will be two weeks' paid paternity leave in that legislation, but there is no definite in Irish politics."

He said that "most European countries have statutory paternity leave" and added, "Things can change and priorities can change, but I know that I'm committed to it and I know that Minister [Frances] Fitzgerald is committed to it.

"It's an important start to the conversation about what we want from Irish society for parents, for families."

That commitment seemed to move a step closer to becoming a concrete reality at the weekend, when Labour outlined plans for a €250m bonanza in family measures to woo the electorate ahead of next year's ballot.

During a two-hour debate on equality issues, Mr Ó Ríordáin said the new policy was "something we can do this year and people want us to do this year," and that Ireland can only be seen as "a real Republic" if people know they will be supported during important times such as the birth of a child.

In her keynote speech on the Saturday night, Labour leader Joan Burton enthusiastically backed these proposals, declaring: "By the end of this year, we'll set out the steps that will enable us to introduce two weeks' paid paternity leave, so that new mums and dads can both afford to spend precious time with their new baby."

So what are the benefits to all of this, should it come to pass? June Tinsley, policy officer with Barnardos, is in no doubt: "Paid paternity leave in Ireland would be brilliant.

"Barnardos has long campaigned for a move towards the 'Scandinavian' childcare model, where parents are supported for the first year of the child's birth through a combination of paid maternity leave, paid paternity leave and parental leave.

"Ireland is very far away from achieving that at the moment, but this proposal for two weeks' statutory paternity leave would certainly be a step in the right direction.

"We're really behind the curve on this one and need to step up to the mark - so many other countries have statutory paternity leave in place. At the moment it's purely up to the discretion of employers, whether they sanction it or not.

"Paid paternity leave certainly benefits men, as well as the mother and the young baby. Being at home really helps both parents to bond with their infant.

"That very young age is when children form deep, positive attachments with their caregiver. They have the space and time to form that bond, and it's so crucial in the infant's life.
In Ireland, people would need to be encouraged to take that leave if it's introduced here.

"And it's only two weeks - which by comparative standards is very little - so we would like to see that expanded.

"The ideal situation would be for at least one parent to be with the child for the first year of their life, through that combination of maternity, paternity and parental leave.

"This gives parents the flexibility to pass it between each other.

"We're seeing a lot of pressure on mothers to come back to work quickly, and it'd be great if that could be alleviated.

"We've been hearing about this Family Leave Bill for a long time, and certainly, I'd love to see it, and hope it comes to fruition."

        
      
      
Carvill Rickard & Co. Solicitors
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