As an employer, what do you do when an employee behaves inappropriately outside of the workplace? Or when they post something online that negatively affects your company?
Given the ubiquity of social media platforms, universal access and a culture of posting contrarian views, employers find themselves in a bit of a pickle. While there may be disclaimers about personal views on social media posts, is this really enough to protect the employee at their workplace? Is it also enough to protect the workplace against negative repercussions?
In Uganda, people have been closely following lawsuits between employers and their employees for actions that took place outside of working hours and outside of the workplace. The question being asked is whether employers can discipline employees for what they do or say outside of the workplace, especially when the employer is easily identifiable on the platform.
In 2015, there was a case between an employee of a company called Edcon and the organization itself. The employee had posted some statements on her social media page against the President of the country, along with some hateful, race inspired comments. This employee was on leave from her job at Edcon, but still had information on her page that identified her employer. Edcon fought back that they did not share the same views as the employee about the President of Uganda, and unfortunately received negative backlash as a result of the posts even though the views were not condoned by the employer.
Eventually, through the proceedings, Edcon decided to dismiss the employee, and then was counter sued for unfair dismissal. At this point, the Labor Court was contacted, and it was decided that an employer had no jurisdiction to discipline an employee for conduct that took place outside of working hours, was not work related, and did not take place at the workplace. However, just because there were no grounds for dismissal does not mean that there were no grounds for discipline as well.
What Edcon failed to provide in this initial situation was a clear link between the employee’s behavior (either inside or outside of the workplace) and a negative effect on the company as a whole. If this had been provided, then grounds for dismissal would have been more easily justified. To complete this story, the Labor Court eventually and laboriously found that the damage caused by this employee to the company was tangible, and therefore her termination was considered justifiable.
After this case, Uganda has set a precedent regarding an employee’s posts on social media. If employees are going to have any information on their pages that identifies who they work for, and then they proceed to act in ways that are not in alignment with the overall company values and culture, they must prepare themselves for the potential of being disciplined at work, or terminated from their jobs entirely. It is common knowledge that racist, or otherwise hate filled, statements are not to be accepted in any workplace – however, this litigation reinforces expectations that these statements are not accepted outside of the workplace either.