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Once upon a time what happened at the Christmas party stayed at the Christmas party.  But one dark and dismissal night, all that changed…

Last Friday was your work Christmas party, held as usual at a prestigious local venue.  Everyone seems to be having fun when suddenly one of your staff lurches towards you and falls over, taking the 15ft Christmas tree with her and cutting off the power to the whole hotel.  If that wasn’t bad enough, on Monday morning, you discover that your business is trending on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube as the must see Christmas party film clip of the moment.

Whilst an employee may think that posting a film clip or picture of themselves or their colleagues having a “good time” at a work social event is harmless fun, it could end up causing your business serious reputational damage, as well as resulting in internal complaints and being the worst career decision of your “film-maker” employee.

Although many businesses warn their staff before the annual Christmas party of the risks of excessive alcohol consumption, inappropriate behaviour and harassment, and the consequences of breaking those rules, you may not have considered rules prohibiting the posting of records of those events on the internet.  Mobile phone technology enables us to record events “as they happen” and to post and tweet photos and videos within seconds.

The moral of the story is, if you haven’t already done so, introduce a social media policy setting out what staff can and cannot do when it comes to online postings about your business, its staff and business contacts.  A good policy will be clear about what is permitted during work time (including work social events) and outside of work, and remind staff that online conduct is not always private.

But what can you do if it’s too late and the damage has already been done?  Can you fairly discipline your “filmmaker” employee for his damaging conduct? The answer will depend on a number of factors: you may be able to use your existing disciplinary procedures by relying on a specific offence (such as seriously damaging business reputation) or, if you have an open list of examples of misconduct offences, this may be sufficient.  If you have nothing in writing, then all may not be lost, you may be able to rely on the unwritten term of trust and confidence that underpins the employment relationship.

Oh, and don’t forget to put a social media policy on your New Year’s resolution list.