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Department for Work and Pensions sacks employees over social media abuse

Posted by simontoffel on March 11th, 2013

Those organisations that make use of HR outsourcing services like those of Employee Management Ltd (http://www.employeemanagement.co.uk) may be intrigued by the statistics relating to the disciplining of staff members at a Government department over the misuse of social media.

According to a report obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has disciplined 116 of its employees for the misuse of blogs and social networking sites since January 2009. Clients of employment law services may be interested to learn that of these 116 officials, eleven civil servants were sacked, 34 received a final written warning, 35 were recipients of a first written warning and 36 were subject to a verbal reprimand.

Last May, the Cabinet Office published its 20 page document outlining its ‘social media guidelines for civil servants’, as part of the Government’s wider strategy relating to IT and communications. Although the document describes social media as an “important tool” for communicating with citizens, adding that the Government wanted to be “a part of the conversation”, access to social media websites is actually denied to many civil servants.

Although Twitter is generally accessible on the computers of DWP employees, there are restrictions on access to Facebook and other social networking sites, except for those with a “genuine requirement for access”. The official Twitter profile of the DWP, which with over 122,000 staff in various departments is one of the UK’s largest employers, features a link to a lengthy Twitter policy in which it is stated, among other things, that the use of hashtags “does not imply endorsement of any kind”.

Steven George-Hilley, communications and technology director at conservative think tank Parliament Street, commented: “In a social media age, it beggars belief that employees are being banned from using sites like Twitter and Facebook in the workplace.” He urged public sector departments to refrain from the implementation of “draconian rules and penalties”, instead encouraging “responsible use of social media” so that staff could be empowered without any risk to the credibility of the organisation.

In response to the report on the sackings, the DWP commented: “The DWP has clear guidelines for staff on the use of the internet and social media. The vast majority of staff abide by these rules. For the small minority who don’t, we have strict disciplinary measures in place, ranging from a warning to dismissal.”

The news should remind public and private sector organisations alike of the importance of the right social media policy. Here at Employee Management Ltd (http://www.employeemanagement.co.uk), our human resource consultants can advise you on the writing of an appropriate policy that reduces your exposure to employment tribunals, in the event of disciplinary action needing to be taken.

Editor’s Note: Employee Management Ltd (http://www.employeemanagement.co.uk) is represented by the search engine advertising and digital marketing specialists Jumping Spider Media. Please direct all press queries to Louise Byrne. Email: louise@jumpingspidermedia.co.uk or call: +44 (0)20 3070 1959 / +34 952 783 637.