A man in Pennsylvania was recently dismissed from his role at an American company for posting several derogatory tweets about his colleagues on Twitter. The individual didn’t hold back and, according to the court documents posted by The Employer Handbook his insults included that his workplace was toxic and that his colleagues were morons, dysfunctional, psychotic and schizophrenic!

Similar cases are not uncommon in the UK and this serves as a useful reminder to employers of the pitfalls and problems caused by their employees’ social media usage. For example, the Metropolitan police officer in 2011 who was dismissed after posting comments on Facebook that his colleague was a liar and a grass.

But employers should refrain from having a knee-jerk reaction to such incidents. You still need to ensure that your disciplinary process is followed and, if you considering dismissing your employee, you think carefully about your legal reason for doing so. If you’re relying on a breach of your bullying and harassment policy or your code of conduct, you should treat online acts in the same way as if it had occurred in the workplace. Having a general code of conduct in place which sets out fundamental standards of behaviour is helpful as its principles can apply to conduct both inside and outside the workplace.

It is also essential that employers have in place an effective social media policy which clearly sets out the sort of online behaviours that will not be tolerated. In an age where almost everyone uses social media in one or more forms, employers need to be more vigilant than ever.