Do you Tweet? Are you a Facebook fan? If you use social networking sites you should be aware that your employer has the right to take disciplinary action against you for inappropriate behaviour on social network sites, even outside working hours.

Social networking sites have been increasingly in the news in recent months, with Facebook currently the most popular, attracting 210 million users worldwide. Are you one of them?

Whilst such sites have their place when used correctly, employees should be aware that use of social networking sites and blogs can give employers a unique insight into the private lives and thoughts of their employees. So what can – or will –   your employer do if they come across defamatory statements about the practice, or evidence of a VN’s comments about another member of staff?

Your employer has to make a distinction between material that breaches confidentiality or undermines your employer’s reputation and that which expresses opinions or exhibits conduct which your employer does not like. The former may undermine the relationship of mutual trust and confidence between employer and employee and justify disciplinary action, which could include dismissal.

You need to be aware of the practice’s policy on the use of IT and also of the disciplinary policy that covers comments and conduct outside the workplace. The following are points that you should think about or ask about within your own practice.

If VNs are allowed personal internet use in work time, you should be clear as to the extent of any permission and any restrictions on time.

There may be restricted access so that certain types of sites, such as, Facebook, Bebo, Twitter, LinkedIn and MySpace, are prohibited. Make sure you know what you are – or are not – allowed to access.

In the event of abuse, or in the event of defaming the business or bringing it into disrepute, the VN should be aware what the consequences of his or her actions will be.

Disclosing confidential information or including discriminatory or offensive comments about other members of staff could also result in disciplinary action, including dismissal.

Clear guidelines should be in place on the nature and extent to which employee IT use may be monitored.

It is also important to realise that many employers are now using social networking sites as a means of finding out more about potential employees during the recruitment process. It is well worth paying attention to -and reviewing the content and style of – your personal on-line profile. What message does it send about you as a potential employee or colleague?

If you feel dissatisfied with your employer for any reason, these sites are not an appropriate forum to air your grievance or to discuss it with colleagues or friends. Always use the grievance procedure and raise the issue through the proper channels at work. 


Nicky Ackerley BA(Hons)

Nicky Ackerley HR Support is owned by Nicky Ackerley who has a BA (Hons) Business Studies Degree, is a member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and who has been a practising HR manager for over 20 years. HR Support Consultancy has provided the BVNA's Industrial Relations Service since it began in 2002.

• VOL 25 • No6 • June 2010 • Veterinary Nursing Journal