Employee Social Media Posts: Are They Really Private?


24 February 2020

By Elizabeth Bradshaw

A recent decision of the Health and Care Professions Tribunal Service highlights the need for professionals regulated by a supervisory body to take great care when posting on their private social media accounts.

The Tribunal Service is the fitness to practise adjudication service of the Health and Care Professions Council which regulates health and care professionals. These include (but are not limited to) physiotherapists, psychologists, paramedics and occupational therapists. In a published decision this month the registrant, a registered biomedical scientist, posted on her social media accounts videos and/or photographs of herself smoking what appeared to be cannabis.

Further, she posted captions and/or hashtags which made reference to the use of cannabis. It was accepted by the registrant that such behaviour amounted to misconduct and that her fitness to practise was impaired.

The Panel concluded that regulated professionals should be aware that their conduct on social media platforms, even if in a private capacity, can impact upon the trust and confidence that the public has in their profession.

The registrant, having accepted that her conduct amounted to misconduct and causing her fitness to practise to be impaired, was able to persuade the Panel that a Caution Order (the least possible sanction) was appropriate. She did so by demonstrating an appropriate level of insight, deleting the relevant posts and recognising from an early stage of the proceedings the serious nature of the allegations. She accepted that she was posting on social media without acknowledging that these posts could be seen by service users, colleagues and the general public and the negative effect this would bring on her reputation, the reputation of the NHS, private hospitals and healthcare as a whole.

This decision should serve as an important reminder to all professionals regulated by a supervisory body (and not just those in the health and care sector) that supposedly private social media posts could have a devastating impact on their ability to continue in their chosen profession.

The registrant in this case was, perhaps, fortunate that she was not sanctioned more seriously by way of suspension or striking off order. Her level of insight and other mitigating factors clearly bore heavily on the Tribunals' ultimate decision regarding the appropriate sanction. However, there is clearly the potential for a more serious punishment and all professionals should, therefore, think before they post! Anything posted on social media accounts (public or private) is capable of censure by a regulatory body ultimately leading to an inability to continue in one's chosen profession.

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