Nigel Crebbin, a partner in the law firm, Berg, looks at how social media can be a trap for the unwary teacher and how schools can limit the risks
As the summer holidays approach, many teachers will be looking forward to a well-earned rest and to a break from the responsibilities of life at school. Often when people go away, they let their guard down at least a bit and, while usually there’s no harm in this, these days it’s especially important to be aware of how social media can come back to haunt you.
Teaching is one of those professions where preserving the correct personal image can be crucially important and even relatively innocuous holiday pictures could prove difficult to deal with if they were to fall into the hands of pupils or the local press.
Consequently, teachers who make use of social media sites such as Facebook need to be very aware of the risks that go with the benefits of that usage and need to ensure that they’re fully up-to-speed with and make use of the security settings which are usually available but which are not always put into effect. It’s also very important to think carefully before accepting someone as a social media “friend” and certainly accepting a pupil as a “friend” would almost always be a bad idea.
It’s also important to do all you can to remove anything about you which is out there in cyberspace and which, if you think about it, could cause you and your school embarrassment if it were to fall into the wrong hands. Being aware of your cyber-footprint is of key importance these days. If a teacher becomes aware of something which is potentially embarrassing about them being available on social media, and finds that they are having difficulty getting it removed, then it can often be better to draw it to the attention of their school as soon as possible. That way the school might be able to help them deal with the issue before it becomes public knowledge and becomes more than a source of minor embarrassment.
Another key requirement in our modern social media world is for schools to have in place a social media policy for their staff, making clear what is and is not regarded by the school as being acceptable social media behaviour. The school should also make sure that its staff are properly trained with regard to that policy and with regard to things such as social media security settings. People are far less likely to do something which their employer would rather they do not do if they have been told what sort of conduct is and is not acceptable beforehand, and have also been told what the potential consequences are for their employment if they do not keep to the rules. Furthermore, an employer runs far less risk of a successful claim being made against it when it disciplines or dismisses an employee over social media use if the employer can point to a clearly worded policy which prohibited that kind of conduct and made clear what the consequences could be for not keeping to the policy’s requirements.
So when summer term finishes this year and you head off for a much needed and much deserved rest, please make sure that the only thing you will need to worry about with your holiday snaps when you get back is boring your neighbours.
Nigel Crebbin is a partner at Manchester law firm, Berg, and can be contacted on 0161 833 9211 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Berg on Twitter @Berg_HR
(The information and opinions contained in this blog/article are not intended to be comprehensive, nor to provide legal advice. No responsibility for its accuracy or correctness is assumed by Berg or any of its partners or employees. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking, or refraining from taking, any action as a result of this blog/article.)