Council staff suspended for social media and internet porn violations

The number of UK council workers suspended for breaching social media guidelines has risen by 19 per cent

More than 50 UK council workers have been suspended after being accused of breaking social media rules, according to Freedom of Information request by BBC Radio 5 live.

At least 51 workers were suspended last year for breaching social media guidelines - an increase from 2014 - and 11 of these were related to accessing pornographic sites while at work.

Orkney Council said one case of suspension involving alleged pornography had led to a related criminal investigation and Redbridge Council said an employee had stored “grossly offensive material in council systems”.

Only a minority of the people suspended were later dismissed or resigned, according to the FOI response.

St Helens Metropolitan Borough Council suspended the highest number of workers. It revealed it took action against seven people last year, several of which involved Facebook.

East Riding of Yorkshire Council said it suspended two teachers for befriending pupils on Facebook, among other issues. In one case a teacher attempted to arrange a meeting with a child over the social network, the council said.

Leeds Council took action against two employees over racial comments made online.

Swindon Borough Council suspended a worker for making threatening comments towards colleague on Facebook.

Cheshire West and Chester Council suspended a worker for posting rude messages about the public on Facebook while on duty and Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Council said one worker had been forced to take six days off after posting an inappropriate photo on an unnamed site.

Last year, 114 council staff were issued with warnings about breaching social media guidelines – a four per cent fall from 2014. However, as a higher of proportion of people were suspended as a result, there was a 19 per cent rise in the number of people forced to take time off.

The number of people suspended over allegations involving pornography fell from 27 per cent on the previous year.

An Local Government Association spokesperson said: “All councils have their own internet and social media usage policies which their staff will be expected to adhere to.

“Some staff will use social media as part of their day-to-day job but for all staff, councils are clear that while some personal use of social media at work is acceptable, it must be reasonable and appropriate in terms of both the time spent and the content.

“The vast majority of council employees abide by that.

“Councils take very seriously any misuse and, as these figures show, will deal robustly with cases that are unacceptable.”

The exact number of people suspended is not known as some councils did not specify how many people had been suspended in the FOI request.

It must be noted not all councils included school staff in the data they submitted and some councils based their numbers on the calendar year, while other used the April to March financial year.

Only 169 councils provided data to the FOI – 22 refused and 27 did not reply.

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