Who is responsible for the work group chat?

With businesses across the country flocking to apps like WhatsApp or Slack to continue social work chatter, it’s a very important reality to face that employers can be liable for comments made on work social platforms – even if it’s outside of working hours or off premises.

In the recent case of Abdi v Deltec International, this point is highlighted exactly. The claimant raised issues of harassment when she found (in the course of her duties) racially abusive comments from her colleagues on the work WhatsApp group.

Although Abdi originally set out her claim under direct discrimination, the case was decided in her favour under the grounds of harassment instead. The provisions of section 212(1) of the Equality Act 2010 state that harassment and direct discrimination claims are mutually exclusive.

In this context, harassment is defined as conduct related to a protected characteristic which has the purpose or effect of violating the claimant’s dignity or creating an intimidating hostile degrading humiliating or offensive environment.

This case not only demonstrates how the distinction between work and private life can sometimes become blurred, but also reminds us that an employer can be responsible for discriminatory conduct that occurs in the virtual work environment in the same way as they can be responsible in reality.

Virtual work environments, where conversation tends to be more informal and humour based, should be an area of caution for employers and managers. It should be made clear that although you encourage social communication amongst the team, your employees still represent the company and should behave just as they would in the workplace.

If you require support around this topic, or if you want to find out how we can work in partnership with you to benefit your business, you can contact a member of the team on 01522 370190 or 020 7110 0006 or email us at info@amicahr.co.uk .

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