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20th Jul, 2021

Keith Rosser
Keith Rosser
Job Title
Reed Screening

Keith Rosser, Chair of the Better Hiring Institute, Chair of SAFERjobs and Director of Group Risk and Reed Screening, warns of the importance of social media screening when it comes to new and existing employees following the British Grand Prix and Euro 2020 championships.

Only earlier this week, the news was flooded with reports of Lewis Hamilton being the target of racist abuse on social media following his victory at the British Grand Prix. In the week prior to this event, England players Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka and Jadon Sancho were targeted after they missed penalties in the Euro 2020 final.

“This completely unacceptable behaviour needs to be eradicated. It’s simply not acceptable in today’s society,” says Rosser.

In a world where social media abuse is rife, we asked Keith what employers can do to protect themselves if an employee decides to use their personal social media account to abuse and attack others…

Q: So Keith, does it really affect the employer if an employee behaves badly on their own personal social accounts?

A: It certainly does, as has been shown with Savills last week. In the wake of the European Championship final, they found themselves in the press due to the behaviour of one of their employees online. As a society, we haven’t yet fully come to terms with behaviours in the online world versus the physical world. Many people still seem happy to behave a certain way online when they never would do in the physical world. This poses a real challenge for employers.

Information about people online is often far more revealing than information contained in references or behaviours witnessed during an interview. If an interviewee was racist during an interview should the employer hire them? What if they spent the evening before the interview spreading racism and other hatred online following a football match? Should the employer hire them? Getting this wrong exposes an employer to reputational damage.

Q: How can managers protect themselves from employees who are attacking people through their personal profiles online?

A: Companies need to have clear policies in place to deal with this, including the reporting of online abuse by employees and clear guidelines for what is acceptable behaviour on social media by employees. There should be clear guidelines for line managers who become aware of this behaviour, and clear processes for dealing with internal and external reports of social media abuse.

As society generally becomes more aware of these issues, it is quite likely that employers will receive more reports about the behaviour of their staff. Managers must protect themselves and deal swiftly and correctly with any reports of online abuse.

Q: What checks can be done to prevent this from happening in the first place?

A: Employers should be conducting social media checks as part of their screening and onboarding process. To do this, employers must have policies in place clearly outlining how to deal with social media abuse in the same way they would have for making suitability decisions based on criminal records. At Reed Screening, we have been speaking with the UK government on this point as I do believe there should be better general advice for employers.

As part of an employer's policy on dealing with online hate, they should make clear how they check new staff coming into the business, and how they monitor existing staff during employment.

Q: Are you able to discipline existing staff for behaviour of this sort?

A: Where the employer has been brought into disrepute by the actions of employees online they are within their rights to investigate and, if appropriate, discipline the employee formally, perhaps even leading to dismissal. It’s important employers have robust policies in place for acceptable social media behaviour by employees and what the process would be if the employee brings the employer into disrepute.

Q: What policies should companies have in place to deal with these situations should they arise?

A: Strategically, companies have a responsibility for having an overarching ‘preventing online harm’ policy which includes their stance on screening new employees, checking the behaviour of existing employees, encouraging reporting from inside and outside the organisation, and how they will deal with reports. Part of resolving the problem is making it clear that this behaviour is wholly unacceptable everywhere, not just online but in the physical world as well.

Q: Should searching for Football Banning Orders (FBO) become part of a company's normal screening process?

A: What is important is the Prime Minister's announcement recently to expand the FBO scheme so it covers more offences, longer periods of time, and leads to more successful action against individuals. This will result in more FBOs appearing on criminal record checks, where employers are conducting them, and being disclosed more often on job applications. Employers should consider rewording their previous conviction questions to include FBOs for clarity.

It is important employers have an enlightened and detailed policy when making employment decisions on individuals with criminal records. Having a blanket ban is unacceptable, and many people with convictions have not re-offended and/or the offence is not relevant to the role. It does not feel right that someone with a minor offence from their teenage years is more likely to struggle to find work than someone who spread racial abuse online in the last few weeks.

Q: What would you say to companies that don't screen their employees?

A: Employers have a duty to help tackle online abuse by taking a stand against it and not employing people who drive online hate. Part of this commitment is ensuring the hiring process identifies people who abuse others online, and the best way they can do this is incorporate it within their screening and onboarding processes.

If employers are not considering this as part of onboarding, then they should clarify how they are working to prevent this issue in future.

Read more about Reed’s pre-employment screening options to help protect your business.