THE own goal scored by Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva in uploading a tweet judged to be racist may trigger further far-reaching repercussions after a recent employment tribunal case.
The player hit the newspaper front pages, rather than the usual back pages, after being charged by the Football Association over a tweet in reference to his teammate Benjamin Mendy.
If found guilty of discrimination, he could face a lengthy ban.
Yet there could be even worse news for him and his employers off the pitch, after a landmark social media case at an employment tribunal.
Its ruling underlined the importance for all employers to have in place comprehensive and robust policies regarding workplace social media use – whether Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn or YouTube.
These must clearly set out the type of conduct and behaviours which will not be tolerated in the workplace – online or offline.
Without such policies in place, employers may find themselves caught up fighting – and losing – costly and time-consuming employment tribunal claims.
It follows a landmark case which explored whether an employer was liable for an employee’s discriminatory acts on social media.
In the case of Forbes v London Heathrow Airport the employment tribunal was asked to rule if a staff member’s discriminatory behaviour happened “in the course of employment”.
If so, the employer could have been deemed liable for the actions.
The detailed policy that the airport had in place governing social media meant the claim, and subsequent appeal, was dismissed.
The tribunal also considered several other relevant factors, including the fact that work equipment had not been used to upload the post.
It also highlighted that the Facebook account was private and the alleged racist image had made no reference to the workplace.
The case is required reading for lawyers representing Manchester City, Silva’s employers.
The FA has alleged that Silva’s tweet, which compared Mendy to the character on packets of Conguitos chocolates, brought the game into disrepute.
It added that the Portugal international’s post constituted an “aggravated breach” of its own rules on social media behaviour because it appeared to reference the French left-back’s race.
An independent regulatory commission will decide whether Silva deserves a six-game ban and has the power to increase or decrease that depending on mitigating circumstances.
Whether such actions stop there – or are taken to an employment tribunal – remains to be seen.
But both episodes underline the growing importance of all employers – not just major or high-profile ones like Manchester City – to have a watertight policy in place governing the use of social media.
Should you have any questions or concerns regarding social media policies, employment tribunals, or any other employment law-related issues, please do not hesitate to contact this article’s author, Managing Partner Simon Bass, or other members of our Employment Law team here at Milners on 0113 245 0852 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org .