How can restaurants protect themselves when it comes to social media?

The  Staff Canteen

What can restaurants and companies do to protect themselves against what their employees are posting on social media?

Further to Som Saa’s chef Shaun Beagley dismissal last week after it was revealed that he is the author of a series of videos labelled ‘offensive’ and ‘racist’. The Staff Canteen ask the question if you oversee a brigade, do you keep an eye on what your chefs post on social media and how can restaurants protect themselves against this type of behaviour?

Can restaurants and catering organisations stipulate acceptable behaviour with regards to the use of social media or has this the potential to become a ‘grey area?'

What is 'acceptable behaviour?'

ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) provides free and impartial information and advice to employers and employees on all aspects of workplace relations and employment law. They say that there can be ‘confusion over what is acceptable behaviour’ when it comes to the use of social media.

Often employees don't realise the implications of making derogatory remarks about people they work with or their employer and believe that they should have the freedom to say what they want on their own social media channels, especially if these comments are made outside of work. However, in such a digital age, it is easy to trace back the identity of individuals and who they work for from a mere tweet or facebook post.

Can you really get fired for making comments on social media?

It can happen. One example of this was Justine Sacco who worked at IAC. The senior director of corporate communications tweeted an offensive and highly inappropriate comment saying ‘Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!’.

Despite only having 170 followers, her ill-advised tweet went viral and by the time she had landed at her destination of South Africa, Justine had received worldwide condemnation and confirmation that she had been fired. Not only did she lose her job, but her reputation was in tatters.

At the time, IAC publicly condemned their employees’ remarks referring to her words as 'hateful statements’, but four years on, have chosen to re-employ her (within the IAC group) albeit in a different role.

Could IAC have predicted this behaviour? Most likely not, but it did spark a discussion as to if employers should implement social media guidelines for employees and if their reputation has the potential to be damaged as a result of employee’s offensive content.

How can restaurants and companies protect their reputation?

So, how can restaurants, hotels, catering organisations avoid being in a situation like IAC and Som Saa? Can owners, managers and head chefs outline what is acceptable behaviour to their brigades?

ACAS recommend that in the first instance that employers need to make clear to employees what conduct is acceptable online, and what is not. It may seem like this is obvious, but what is acceptable behaviour to one person, may not be acceptable to another. Common sense goes a long way, but even with this in mind, it is beneficial to officially outline what is not acceptable behaviour. Employers also need to outline that if a problem pertaining to comments made on social media arises, what the disciplinary procedure will be.

How is your brigade representing you on social media?

Employers and leaders need to make it clear when employees will be representing the company or restaurant and to what extent that personal views can be expressed. This might be to outline employees not to express any political views online. An international shoe chain banned their employees about talking about Brexit with their customers and even gave a statement saying: "Any employees who wish to share their views via social media should ensure that their profile is not linked to Pavers in any way.”

ACAS also advise that employers should make it clear when employees will be representing the company or restaurant and what personal views they can express. They also advise that it should be made clear to employees about defamation and how it ‘expects employees to help protect the company or organisational brand.’

A change in attitude

Whilst there has always been discussion and banter in the kitchen, sometimes this can get out of hand as outlined by Neil Rankin who tweeted in response to the firing of Som Saa’s Shaun Beagley saying: “We all need to be better at calling out in the restaurant industry where we see it or we are all complicit.” Could this be the final impetus to change the mindset of people that demonstrate offensive behaviour and pass it off as ‘banter.’

What do chefs think about this?

We asked for your comments on this discussion and you said:

Brian Sysun feels there is an 'industry disconnect':

Stephen Hibbard said:

Alexei Diaz-Paz commented: "The wider issue is if the private life -including its public expression- of an employee belongs to the person or the employer. The salary only covers the working time. Workers are not owned by corporations."

He continues: "We have the right to our privacy, including the public aspects of our private lives."

 We want to know what you think, please leave your comments here or head over to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and have your say!

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 19th July 2018

How can restaurants protect themselves when it comes to social media?