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24 July 2024

Company liable for staff tweets

Under DIFC and QFC employment law, an employer may be held vicariously liable for the actions of its employees. (AP)

By Parag Deulgaonkar

An employer can be held liable for actions of his/her employee on social networking sites, under the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) and Qatar Financial Centre (QFC) employment law, according to Clyde and Co.

“Under DIFC and QFC employment law, an employer may be held vicariously liable for the actions of its employees, for example bullying or harassing a colleague by comments made on Facebook or Twitter,” the law firm said in a report titled ‘Social Networking: an advantage for your business or a liability?’

An employee posting a comment on a colleague could be guilty of discrimination on unlawful grounds, defamation, libel or harassment. The employee himself would be personally liable and a possible action under tort for harm suffered by the colleague commented on, could be raised in accordance with the civil codes of UAE, Qatar or Saudi Arabia.

To avoid liability, Clyde and Co said an employer must demonstrate that the employee acted outside the course of his employment and that it took reasonable steps to prevent the act.

“Again, a clear policy on social media and acceptable behaviour in the virtual world would go a long way to establishing clear and transparent rules of conduct.”

An employer’s openness to social networking sites will depend on the sector in which it operates and openness to such sites may make the employer more attractive to new recruits.

The key consideration is to set clear standards of behaviour so that an employee knows what is expected of him in terms of his performance and behaviour at the outset and the consequences of getting it wrong.

Employees should be aware of a common misconception that social networking sites are private and their postings will be in the public domain.

Employers should be mindful of employees’ right to privacy protected by the constitution and also their entitlement to privacy of communication and not to have details of their personal life published without their consent.

Where an employer is actively monitoring its employees, the report said this should be explicitly set out in a company policy and express consent from employees obtained. It should be made clear to employees that the communications and IT system remains company property and personal use should be minimised.

“The boundaries of what is acceptable and what is not, are still being determined by juridical authority and employers would be well advised to be transparent and clear to employees in order to set expectations and ensure appropriate behavior in the workplace (including the virtual one!),” Clyde and Co added.

On Sunday, Symantec, an IT services firm, told Emirates 24|7 businesses need to continuously educate their employees who use Twitter to ensure that the source is trustworthy and the social networking site is being targeted with malicious activity.

Attackers select tweets that contain a popular topic and a shortened URL. The original URL is then replaced with a different shortened URL, pointing to a malicious website, Symantec added.

Criminal offences

Defamation is a criminal offence in the penal codes of the UAE, Qatar and Saudia Arabia, according to Clyde and Co.  In the UAE a statement is defamatory under articles 371 to 373 of the UAE Penal Code, if it is an accusation which dishonours or discredits the person in the mind of the public generally and it has been made publicly.

A fine of Dh20,000 and imprisonment of up to two years may be imposed.

Furthermore under the Penal Code, it is a criminal offence to publish information relating to a person’s private and family life, including photos, pictures and comments without their consent. Under the Copyright Law, copyright infringement is punishable by imprisonment of two months (and a fine of Dh10,000-Dh50,000) which double both on subsequent infringements, and the term of imprisonment may rise to 6 months if the same offence is recommitted (with the fine being a minimum of Dh50,000).

It is also a criminal offence in the UAE under Law No 15 of 1980 regarding printed matter and publishing, to publish confidential information damaging to a reputation of a person, his wealth and commercial name.

The Cybercrimes law (Law No 2 of 2006)  prohibits publication of news or pictures which offend public manners, are contrary to Islamic principles or which violate an individual’s private or family life, the law firm said.