The involvement of social media, and particularly Twitter, in employee dismissal seems to be on the rise. This has been highlighted in two recent cases which recently hit the world of football in UK and started a debate.

Last March football player Nicholas Anelka was dismissed for ‘gross misconduct’ by West Bromwich Albion after using Twitter to communicate his decision of terminating his contract with the club. West Bromwich Albion, on the other hand, responded with dismissing Anelka on the basis that the resignation had not been conducted under the correct legal procedure and was hence invalid.

More recently, football manager David Moyes has been dismissed by his club Manchester United as a consequence of failing to achieve planned seasonal objectives. Once again, the news was given using the club’s official Twitter page.

The two cases, however different, both involve an inappropriate use of social media. According to Adrian Hoggarth, Head of Employment at Prolegal ltd, this clearly shows that “neither employers nor employees fully understand where the boundaries lie”. Anelka’s resignation via Twitter, for instance, “would not have been appropriate for West Bromwich to accept without first clarifying that it actually represented the player’s intention”. In the first place, a social media statement cannot be considered as a valid notice to an employer; secondly, Anelka’s account could have been hacked.  Manchester United’s decision of broadcasting Moyes’s dismissal on Twitter, on the other hand, was a reaction to the intense speculation which had begun online and essentially dictated the timing of the club’s response.

Is this a sign of the times? Mr Hoggarth suggests that “in an industry that is the subject of such media scrutiny, it seems likely that this will happen more frequently in the future”. Bryan Adams, CEO at Ph. Creative, also adds that in a society where access to information is so easily available, “chances of hierarchal decisions being leaked are to be expected” and, whether intentional or not, “it’s showing the world that this can and will happen”.

Some might consider this acceptable considering the nature of the job, where highly-skilled professionals are required to live under constant media exposure. Nonetheless, this does not prevent businesses from implementing the right policies. Specifically, Mr Hoggarth advises employers to set a social media policy where they tell employees what should and should not be done. “It is important to educate staff on what they cannot say on social media, and educate managers on what they should do when faced with social media issues”.

The rise of dismissal and resignation via Twitter, says Mr Adams, also provides businesses an opportunity to learn a lesson for the future. For this reason, firms are recommended to “begin creating a contingency plan” and “prepare for the day when they are faced with a similar predicament as it is almost inevitable”.

Article by Sergio Russo