Social media dismissal – gone wrong

10 October 2017

Social media’s encroaching into our lives more and more every day, so it’s only natural it extends into the workplace too.

Cast your mind back to 10 years ago, social media policies wouldn’t have been on the scene, and employers certainly weren’t contemplating dismissing employees for their behaviour on such sites.

But here we are.

Now, there are grounds for dismissing employees based on their social media antics but, as with any type of dismissal, it’s not something that should be taken lightly – and we’d always recommend seeking professional advice first. So, let’s take a look at some cases where it went wrong…

B&Q bust-up

Background: A B&Q employee took to Facebook to air his frustrations following an instruction from a manager. He didn’t list his place of work on his profile, but he was Facebook friends with around 50 B&Q colleagues.

What was said: “My place of work is beyond a f*****g joke!!”, “You know what it’s like, they reckon we can do more than one job at a time!! I have had to come home before I do something I regret!!” and “I’ll be doing some busting but it won’t be queues lmao!!” To name just a few.

Found out: A colleague reported the comments as they believed they were against the company’s social media policy. In an investigatory meeting, the employee said the posts were published to relieve stress after a bad day. He was probed on what he meant by “busting”, but didn’t comment.

Action: The employee was dismissed, and went on to claim for unfair dismissal.

Tribunal: The tribunal ruled that B&Q followed a fair procedure. However, they went on to say that although the employee’s comments breached B&Q’s social media policy, that a breach doesn’t always warrant dismissal.

B&Q stated they thought the “busting” comment amounted to damage to property or injury to personnel, but given the employee’s good previous record and the fact no-one felt individually threatened, the tribunal didn’t deem the dismissal response reasonable, and said B&Q should have imposed a lesser penalty.

End result: The tribunal found that the employee had been unfairly dismissed.

Learnings: For one off offences involving employees with otherwise clean records, warnings are perhaps sufficient.

Halfords hiccup

Employee background: At the time of the incident, the employee had six years’ service, a clean disciplinary record and was off sick due to stress.

Case background: Business-wide consultations were taking place to discuss workplace re-organisation. While he was off sick, the employee attended a consultation – where he was told that all information given was confidential.

The employee took this as the information was confidential until all consultation meetings had taken place, because after this point, all employees would have been informed of the proposed changes.

What happened: After his consultation meeting, the employee logged on to the company’s employee website from home and discovered that the group consultation had been completed. He then created a Facebook page titled “Halfords workers against working 3 out of 4 weekends”.

Two days later, he stumbled across Halfords’ social media policy on the employee website, and realised that the Facebook page he created was against their policy and could result in disciplinary action. As a result, he removed it right away – but by this point it was too late and Halfords had already found out about it.

Action: The employee was invited to a disciplinary hearing, where he was apologetic, said he was off sick due to stress and that this may have clouded his judgement, and that he wouldn’t act in such a way again.

Despite this, Halfords dismissed the employee for breach of trust. He appealed the decision, failed, and subsequently claimed for unfair dismissal.

Tribunal: The tribunal agreed that Halfords’ investigation into the employee’s Facebook behaviour was reasonable, but went on to rule that their summary dismissal was not appropriate or reasonable – especially given the employee apologised, had a clean record and removed the page off his own accord.

End result: The employee’s unfair dismissal claim was upheld, and he was awarded £11,350 in compensation.

Learnings: Always take mitigating factors into account when deciding on the appropriate course of action.

Here to help

You didn’t set up your business to get bogged down with social media policies, disciplinary procedures or unfair dismissal claims – but we did.

For help on any area of social media and Employment Law, get in touch with our industry leading experts on 0345 844 1111, or drop us a line.

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