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YuleTube if you want to …

13 December 2010

As everyone knows, the office Christmas party has long been a traditional source of trouble in the employment context – a supply of free alcohol often acting as a catalyst for behaviour that leads to disciplinary proceedings or at worst, dismissal.

But technology has now opened up another can of worms for employers. The phenomenal rise in the use of video-sharing websites offers the potential for a new sort of virtual office party pooping.

I came across an example of this after a large company threw a big works party for all its staff last Christmas. Towards the end of the evening when everyone was in high spirits, a junior employee used his phone to video a group of workmates behaving very crudely in the company’s warehouse.

Not content with merely filming the antics, he got home and downloaded the film onto the YouTube website. When it was drawn to the bosses’ attention, they rightly took exception to what had gone on. Moreover, the company name was clearly visible on equipment and signage in the background. The employee was subsequently dismissed for bringing the company into disrepute.

A similar episode in America led two employees to lose their jobs at a Domino’s Pizza restaurant. They had posted a series of videos on YouTube, which showed some very unhygienic things being done to food that was being prepared for a customer. The voiceover explained: “In about five minutes these sandwiches will be sent out and somebody will be eating these … yes, eating these!”.

YouTube receives millions of hits every day .. and as the footage spread, the company was left fighting to contain the impact on their brand.  This example shows that what may start out as a bit of silly fun can have huge and damaging repercussions.

As this is a relatively recent problem, not many incidents have reached an employment tribunal or a court room so there is little case law to point to. Employers are usually prepared to excuse a certain amount of high spirits because it’s the office party .. but if the material ends up on a website it becomes a very different matter.

A good rule of thumb is: If you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, don’t film it or post it as a comment. And to be on the safe side, you might just leave your mobile phone at home!

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