The Government has enacted the Harassment and Harmful Communications and Related Offences Act 2020 which specifically provides that employers can be held criminally liable for acts committed by its employees.
Employers may be ordered to pay significant damages to third parties and be criminally prosecuted for their employees actions where such actions are in breach of the following:
- Equal Status Acts 2000-2018 which prohibits discrimination;
- Data Protection Act 2018 which governs the use of personal data;
- Defamation Act 2009 –which prohibits the publication of defamatory statements;
- Intellectual Property legislation which protects intellectual property rights;
- Harassment and Harmful Communications and Related Offences Act 2020 which prohibits the distribution, publication or sending of threatening or grossly offensive communications.
Employers can be liable for physical or verbal acts committed by its employees and also acts committed electronically or virtually by employees including
- Publication by an employee on the company social media accounts – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn;
- Publication by an employee on their own personal social media accounts;
- Email sent by an employee via a company email address;
- Communication sent by an employee from work devices such as mobile phones and laptops;
- Messages and links sent via WhatsApp or messaging apps while in the workplace or for purposes connected to the employment.
Social Media and Internet Usage Policies should be implemented which set out policies on the use of social media accounts, both relating to business and personal accounts, on communications via electronic devices such as laptops and phones provided by the business or used in the workplace.
A Social Media and Internet Usage Policy which is communicated to employees can act as a defence to employers who are pursued by injured parties in a civil claim or by the state for criminal proceedings for acts committed by their employees in the workplace or when using company devices or accounts.
Also these policies may be relied upon by employers to justify dismissal of an employee where the employee acts in contravention of the policies which have been communicated to them and are part of their employment contract.