Lawyers: Beware of what you say online (even in jest)

Social media has infiltrated our daily lives on a scale that not even Messrs Zuckerberg (Facebook), Dorsey (Twitter) or Hoffman (LinkedIn) could have envisaged in their wildest dreams.


But while social media can play a significant role in building your personal brand online, it can just as easily scupper your chances of job success if you post something that is deemed inappropriate. So what should you avoid posting online?


For many employers, the line between professional and personal no longer exists, and there have been a number of instances in recent years to serve as a reminder that social media is inextricable linked to the workplace.


In 2011, an employee was dismissed from Apple Retail after making disparaging remarks about her colleagues on Facebook, with a tribunal finding in favour of the retailer on account that the remarks could have damaged its employer brand.


Three years later, in 2014, a civil servant was dismissed for posting offensive comments on Wikipedia about the Hillsborough disaster, while in 2015 an employee of the British Waterways Board was fired for posting comments that included “I hate my work” and “Why are the gaffers such ******”, among others.


But if you think these are isolated incidents that happen relatively infrequently, you would be wrong.


According to a survey conducted by CareerBuilder in 2016, almost 1 in 5 (18%) of employers have dismissed an employee because of something they had posted on social media.


CareerBuilder also found that 60% of hiring managers search the social media profiles of potential new employees before they even interview them, with 49% of employers rejecting candidates based on what they found.


Accordingly, provocative or inappropriate photographs were ranked as the biggest turn off (46%), followed by information about a candidate’s drinking behaviour (43%) and discriminatory comments (33%) or bad-mouthing an employer of colleague (31%).


Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion and it would be remiss of us to suggest otherwise. But expressing any opinion that could reflect negatively on the organisation can and probably will see you leaving your current role sooner than you think. It could also jeopardise your chances of being hired by someone else.


However, there are exceptions of when it is OK to express a personal opinion.


For instance, just because the candidate has expressed point of view that opposes that of the client we are recruiting for, it wouldn’t necessarily rule them out of the running for the role.


Indeed, employers want people who will challenge them and can offer new perspectives and the key to any expression of opinion is to back up what you say and think. After all, we’re recruiting lawyers and if they can’t do this then that automatically rules them out straight off!


But if they have expressed a sentiment that could be deemed wholly inappropriate, we would not look to pursue their application any further no matter how well qualified or experienced they may be.


As recruiters for some of the most recognisable law firms in the country, we need to be confident that the people we put forward to our clients could represent them without prejudice.


We live in an age where what we say and what we do remains online for time immemorial so we need to protect the reputations of our clients (and ourselves).


So if someone posted a message on Facebook in support for Trump’s ban on Muslim’s entering the US, that would not only be deemed racist it could also negatively reflect on the employer if they chose to hire that person and the post was later revealed in public.


What people post can be very interesting and there is often a theme that is indicative of either their opinion or personality. These can influence the perception we have of a candidate as it often demonstrates the strength of feeling someone may have over a particular issue.


We are often amazed how many social media posts we see from people urging others to inflict some form of retribution on an ex, for instance, such as cause damage to a prizes possession (usually a car), pet, expensive suits and all manner of other things.


Not only do such calls to actions constitute a breach of the law, they also make you an incredibly unattractive proposition as a future employee…and if you think employers won’t find out what you have said online, think again, even if said in jest!