Most employers have a policy which covers acceptable social media usage at work, but what can you do if an employee who is off sick appears to be prolific on social media?

This is a situation that comes up with alarming regularity and causes employers a great deal of frustration.

For example, if an employee is off work for several months suffering from stress and anxiety, but is posting endless photographs of themselves modelling outfits and videos providing commentary on one topic or another, could an employer call into question the severity of their employee’s medical condition?

It would be clear-cut if the employee was absent with a knee problem but triumphantly broadcasting on social media their success in running a marathon.

But if the employee is signed off work with a mental health problem, it could be argued that their activity on social media is therapeutic and helps them to combat their condition.

In these circumstances a more cautious approach is needed, avoiding the temptation to jump to conclusions. Having said that, I would encourage you to actively manage your employee’s absence.

Try to tell other staff, who may be seeing the material online and complaining, that you are aware and are dealing with the matter. It is not for them to know how you are dealing with it but when office gossip starts, it can affect morale so you need to nip it in the bud quickly.

During your employee’s absence you should maintain regular contact with them to check how things are progressing. This is your opportunity to talk to them about their activities on social media.

Do keep dated records of these conversations and examples of the social media posts that are causing you to question the validity of their absence, in case you need to rely on this later.

You should also refer the matter to an occupational health professional to gain an independent opinion with supporting medical evidence. Any future disciplinary action would be unfair if you don’t have clear medical evidence supporting your assertions.

Following this process and gathering the evidence that you need will allow you to embark on disciplinary proceedings if you remain convinced that your employee is faking their illness and will assist you in fairly dealing with the absence.

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