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£30000 award for unfair dismissal for Facebook comment

Posted by TonyBrownEmploymentSolicitor on November 17, 2014

The growth of social media raises serious issues for most businesses regarding their employees’ inappropriate use of social media.

As there is no specific regulation on the use of social media by employees and employers in the UK, existing employment law and data protection principles apply. These give employers considerable freedom to regulate the use of social media by employees through the use of internal policies. However, an employer may face serious difficulties in enforcing appropriate usage by employees if its policies are unclear. 

In the next case, an employee was awarded over £30,000 by an employment tribunal after it deemed his dismissal for liking a comment on Facebook amounted to unfair dismissal partly because of defects in the employer’s policy regulating employees’ use of Facebook.

In that case, the Facebook comment was written by the Claimant’s former work colleague regarding their manager, and in which the colleague posted: 

“lucky a never f***ed a chair aff his heed”. 

After discovering that the Claimant had liked the comment, the employer dismissed the Claimant.

In the ET, the employer claimed that the Claimant’s action was in breach of its guidance issued to employees about the use of social media. However, the tribunal found that the guidance was "primarily directed at use at work" and did not cover the Claimant’s action.

 

The employer also claimed that dismissal was justified because there had been a breakdown in trust and confidence between the employer and the Claimant as a result of the post regarding the Claimant’s manager. However, the Employment Judge said:

"There were no objective reasons to believe that his performance would in the future be different simply because his foolish participation in what he had mistakenly believed to be a private online conversation had become more public." 

Comment
In these times, when social media is commonplace employers should consider the implications for their business when drafting contracts and handbooks to ensure that employees are clear about what is and is not acceptable use of social media and what the possible consequences are of any breach.

In this case, the employer lost in the ET because the tribunal decided that the guidance issued to employees was primarily directed at use of social media in the workplace. Increasingly, the problem for employers is employees’ use of Facebook and Twitter outside work.