Sectarian Facebook chat could cost employers

The laws mean firms could be punished if they allow sectarian comments to be posted on company equipment. Picture: Getty
The laws mean firms could be punished if they allow sectarian comments to be posted on company equipment. Picture: Getty
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EMPLOYERS have been warned to toughen up their social networking policies or risk legal action from victims of online sectarian attacks.

Lawyers claim firms could fall foul of new anti-sectarian laws passed by the Scottish Parliament if they allow employees to post sectarian comments while using networks such as Facebook and Twitter on company equipment. The new legislation, introduced in March, could leave private companies and public sector employers open to a flood of religion and belief discrimination claims from the victims of sectarian remarks, according to law firm DLA Piper.

Costly claims of unfair dismissal could also rise if companies do not clarify their social media policies on what employees can post on social media websites. Jonathan Rennie, an associate with DLA Piper’s employment, pensions and benefits team, said: “This is going to become a serious issue in Scotland. There will be a scenario in Scotland within the next six months where an employee who has made anti-sectarian comments that can be attributed to their employer faces criminal sanctions and leaves the employer open to the potential for a religion and belief discrimination claim.”

While most employers currently have some form of social media policy, Rennie said, most companies had failed to update their policies to reflect the new anti-sectarian legislation.

“Cases concerning the use of social media in the workplace have until now been dealt with exclusively by employment tribunals,” said Rennie. “However, due to the complex civil and criminal implications which accompany the new law, employers now face the prospect of a threat presented by sectarian discrimination via social media.

“Above all, employers need to ensure that if employees are posting personal comments, then they are clear that these comments are personal opinions and not representative of their employers.”

In February – just before the legislation was introduced –North Lanarkshire Council launched an investigation after a council worker made a sectarian attack via his Facebook page on Celtic manager Neil Lennon. Meanwhile, in October last year, two men employed by Stirling Council were investigated after they were believed to have posted anti-Catholic comments on Facebook. Neither case has yet been prosecuted under the new laws. However, Rennie said future cases could lead to discrimination claims or an employment tribunal.

“A victim could potentially raise a religion and belief discrimination claim, or they may choose to go straight to the police. Even if comments haven’t been made in the context of the employment relationship, there is the potential, if someone has disclosed their employer in their personal details, for the comments to be linked to the employer.”