Last month, Travel Weekly reported that Tui Travel employee Emma Short was dismissed from her job as a web support adviser after criticising a colleague on her Facebook page.

Short used the networking site to vent her anger about a co-worker who she claimed was bullying her at work, writing that she had “never been so angry” and wanted to “smack the brown-nosing cow in the face”.

Short’s comments were reported by a colleague and she was suspended for two days, then fired for cyber bullying, threatening behaviour and breaching company internet policy.

She said: “Staff often write about customers and their bosses on Facebook and get away with it – I was just unlucky.”


Virgin crew sacked

Short was not the first travel industry employee to see her Facebook comments backfire. In November 2008, Virgin Atlantic sacked 13 cabin crew who called the airline’s passengers “chavs” on the site.

Problems can also arise when employees vent their frustrations about work on Facebook. In one case, an administration worker was sacked for labelling her job ‘boring’.

Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, which represents 58 unions in the UK, said difficulties come when companies do not have clear social media policies.

A survey conducted in February by law firm Pannone found that 79% of respondents did not have a social networking policy in place.

Barber said: “If companies ignore the issue, they will have to work out what to do when faced with the problem.

“They could end up taking drastic action, which could have been avoided.

“Employees should not be left in the dark about what they can and can’t do online.”

He said this left the UK’s 20 million Facebook users as “accidents waiting to happen”.

Short’s employer, Tui Travel, does allow staff to use the sites during work time, and provides them with a set of guidelines to make sure they do not “undertake any activities that might bring the business into disrepute”.

A spokeswoman explained: “The rise in social websites provides a number of benefits which we know our staff may wish to take advantage of.

“However, when someone clearly identifies their association with Tui Travel and/or discusses their work, they are expected to behave appropriately and in ways that are consistent with Tui Travel UK’s values and policies.”


Website ban

Other travel companies, such as Thomas Cook, have sought to minimise the problem by banning the use of sites during work time.

A spokeswoman said: “As employees don’t require access to social networking sites for business purposes, these pages aren’t available through the company systems.”

However, surfing the net at work for pleasure actually raises staff’s concentration levels, according to a study by the University of Melbourne.

Dr Brent Coker from the university said: “People who surf the internet for fun at work – within a reasonable limit of less than 20% of their total time in the office – are more productive by about 9% than those who don’t.

“Firms spend millions of pounds on software to block staff from using social networking sites under the pretence that it costs millions in lost productivity; however, that’s not always the case.”

The best way to avoid trouble is to set usage policies with staff, said Barber.

“Employers and employees need to sit down together and work out a reasonable policy on what is expected of staff in their conduct online,” he said.


Tips: Avoid social networking pitalls

  • Know your company’s social media company and follow it
  • Don’t bad-mouth people on social networking sites
  • Always log off when you leave your desk
  • Update your privacy settings so only friends can see your personal information and photographs
  • Don’t post confidential information about your company or customers online