Unlike a private chat, these are available for all to see, create a permanent record and may be circulated widely. Facebook and its ilk have blurred the distinction between work and private lives, with managers unsure how to respond. In other European countries, strict privacy laws obstruct companies seeking to clamp down on damaging internet activity. In contrast, UK tribunals have been sympathetic to employers taking a hard line against staff denigrating them online - at least if they have a clear policy. But decisions don't always favour the employer. In one recent case, the sacking of an employee for making derogatory remarks about her workplace on Facebook was declared unfair. She had an exemplary record, client relationships hadn't been jeopardised and the comments were relatively mild (eg, 'Takes a lot for the bastards to grind me down'). In short, make sure that indiscreet postings clearly justify serious consequences in the 'real' world.
- Michael Burd and James Davies, Lewis Silkin LLP solicitors, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.