Online sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are potential legal landmines for employees as well as employers. Here, Mandeep Kalsi, an associate with the Hadef & Partners law firm in Dubai, discusses the changing dynamics online.
Have there been any cases in the UAE where employees, or employers, have got into hot water over something employees have posted online?
Not as far as we're aware. What we're seeing is a lot of cases coming out of other jurisdictions, mostly the US and UK. They are case-specific, but they do act as a salutary warnings to employees as to their use of social networking sites - within or outside the workplace - could have implications on their employment relationship.
How could workers who use LinkedIn, which helps people connect to colleagues and clients, get in trouble?
The primary concern for employers is in relation to whether or not employees will continue to remain linked with key contacts and clients upon termination, and whether there's a risk that employee may seek to transfer customers, especially when moving to a direct competitor. Also, there are discussion forums within LinkedIn, so care definitely needs to be taken - probably more so in the context of Twitter or Facebook, depending on the user privacy settings, where employees may land themselves in hot water.
Depending upon the degree of offensiveness of the employee's postings online, they could ... potentially damage the employer's reputation [by] posting disparaging or derogatory comments about products or services. An employee may also be liable for defamation or inadvertently expose themselves to disciplinary action if they call in sick but their Facebook profile updates flatly contradict that.
Under the Employment Law of the Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC), an employer within that business hub may be held legally responsible for the discriminatory acts of their employees if committed during the course of a job. How might this work online?
Say you have an employee who engaged in cyber-bullying or discrimination that develops in the workplace and continues after-hours in a work social function. The employee will not necessarily be acting outside the scope of his employment because he's been expressly forbidden from posting such material, and the employer may be vicariously liable even if it's not authorised the employee's actions.
How do employers avoid being held liable?
The employer has to demonstrate it took reasonable measures preventing those attacks.
Where should employers set out their expectations for how employees operate online?
Employers can set out their expectations by implementing clear and robust social media policies, which will assist employers when seeking to justify any subsequent disciplinary action. It also provides a code of conduct for employees.
* Neil Parmar