Lloyds has just issued guidance to senior managers on the use of social media. That guidance is supposed to be shared with Lloyds staff.
In the guidance Lloyds says that staff shouldn’t post anything on any social media sites if it’s possible that someone, somewhere could be offended by what’s been written or ‘liked’. The bank doesn’t define the word “offended”. The guidance says:
“Can anyone read what you have posted without being offended? If not, then do not post it. You represent more than yourself”. [Words highlighted by BTU]
Given that there will always be someone, somewhere who can claim to be offended by almost anything, what the bank is actually saying is don’t post anything in case anyone claims to be offended. That can’t be right. It confirms this by saying that that if you do post something that causes offence, then that will be investigated, and you could be subject to disciplinary action.
We understand that bringing the company name and individuals you may work with into disrepute is a legitimate concern for the bank. However, when that legitimate concern extends to the social media world at large, determining what is and what isn’t offensive, then that’s going too far in restricting freedom of speech.
Some may take the view that if you don’t post anything then you can’t get into trouble with your employer. That’s right, but if you take that to its logical conclusion then none of us would say anything for fear of offending someone, somewhere. And instead of defining what’s meant by “offensive”, the bank is forcing staff into a form of enforced censorship to avoid potentially getting into trouble. Again, that’s wrong.
Interestingly, these issues were the subject of a High Court case just before Christmas. In that case – Katherine Elizabeth Scottow v Crown Prosecution Services – Lord Justice Bean and Mr. Justice Warby said: “Free speech encompasses the right to offend, and indeed to abuse another”. The judges also said: “Freedom to only speak inoffensively is not worth having”.
Nobody is condoning abuse and we understand that it’s a bigger issue than just Lloyds Banking Group, but its new guidance has brought this issue into sharp focus. Members will recall that we won an employment tribunal case on behalf of a member dealing with similar issues a few years ago.
Members with any questions on this should contact the Union’s Advice Team on 01234 262868 (choose Option 1).