An employee of Savills estate agents is alleged to have made an “appalling” racist comment on Twitter shortly after the England team lost on penalties in the Euro 2020 final against Italy on Sunday.
Savills have swiftly suspended the employee who owns the account the comment came from, pending the outcome of an investigation which is said to be taking a priority. The police have also been involved in the case.
A statement issued for Savills read:
“Savills abhors and has zero tolerance to any form of racism and racial discrimination and is appalled by the racist comments in these tweets.”
It is understood that the worker has initially defended what happened by claiming his Twitter account had been hacked. This has been referred to the Greater Manchester police for further investigation.
The individual in question stated in his Twitter bio that he was employed by Savills; however, this has subsequently been changed and the racist tweet has been deleted.
Repercussions of social media activity at work
Although awareness is increasing, many workers either forget or believe that what they post on their personal social media accounts is no business of the employer and therefore cannot have repercussions on their working life. However, confidence in that viewpoint is wholly misguided and shows an ignorance for the potentially far reaching and severe outcomes that can come about because of their conduct online, be it in or out of work.
Right to a private life and freedom of speech
Taking action against employees personally made comments online must take into account several considerations, such as those in the Human Rights Act 1998. Employers must also be mindful of pitfalls linked with monitoring, such as whether they have kept in line with data protection obligations and the implied duty of trust and confidence upon which an employment relationship is built.
However, handled properly, these considerations do not prevent a prepared employer from balancing these rights and duties with their legitimate aims for monitoring the social media activity of their staff, particularly where the monitoring is proportionate and necessary.
Certainly, preventing racial harassment (or indeed any form of unlawful discrimination) will be a legitimate reason for implementing such monitoring.
Organisations often also have a legitimate interest in minimising any vicarious liability for the actions of their employees, and for protecting the reputation of the company and the rest of the workforce.
Savills may have established several grounds upon which they are entitled to investigate the actions of this manager in their home life with the view that it may impact on his continued employment. Nonetheless, in this case, the individual has effectively invited Savills to do so by stating in his account bio that he works for the Company. In doing so he created a direct relationship between the company and whatever comments or views he expresses. It goes without saying, that Savills and indeed every employer must promptly take a zero-tolerance stance on any link between them and racial harassment.
Grounds for dismissal
Although it may initially appear to be clear that an employee is responsible for gross racial harassment, an employer must still ensure that both the reason and the procedure followed for bringing about any dismissal is legally fair, otherwise it is sadly possible that the offending employee may win an unfair dismissal claim.
For this reason, in the face of potentially gross misconduct, it is appropriate that suspension measures are taken promptly whilst a full investigation takes place. Subsequently it may be decided what appropriate action is possible following a review of the evidence available.
If the investigation shows there is a case to be answered, Savills may consider routes such as a formal disciplinary hearing. If the evidence amounts to a reasonable belief that the individual was responsible for the comments, the outcome may be a dismissal for discriminatory conduct. Alternatively (or additionally) and depending on the evidence, they may follow a process leading to a dismissal for some other substantial reason (SOSR). Broadly speaking, this would most likely be in relation to an irrevocable breakdown in trust and confidence and profound damage to the company’s reputation.
Protect your business against employee conduct online
Employers should take steps to stamp out unlawful discrimination and to protect potential victims, the company’s reputation and any vicarious liability against the risk of their employees harassing others online. They can do this in a number of ways, all of which should be kept current and reiterated on a regular basis. Examples include:
- Regular and appropriate equality, diversity and inclusion training
- Fostering a culture of equality and zero-tolerance for discrimination throughout the company
- Implementing a social media policy which covers personal accounts and communicating reminders of expectations
- Implementing a bullying and harassment policy and ensure it covers activity in connection with work
- Conducting a data protection impact assessment and understanding the legal parameters for employee monitoring
- Communicate to employees how monitoring may reasonably be occurring and used
- Ensure it is known that any act of unlawful discrimination, including on personal social media accounts where there is a link to work (ie the company name is stated or the act is against a colleague or third party) has the potential to result in dismissal.
For advice on any HR related issue, for your organisation, call HR Solutions on 0844 324 5840. To find out more about all of our HR and Health & Safety support services visit www.hrsolutions-uk.com/hr-services.