Internet and Social Media

An industrial tribunal in Northern Ireland has held that the dismissal of an employee for making vulgar comments about the promiscuity of a female colleague on his Facebook page was reasonable in the circumstances and was therefore fair.

Although the comments did not bring the employer’s reputation into serious disrepute, the harassment of a colleague was sufficiently serious on its own to justify the dismissal of the employee for gross misconduct. Furthermore, having made his comments public, the employee had no reasonable expectation of privacy for the purposes of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The decision adds to the emerging case law on misconduct dismissals involving social media, which includes:

–          an employment tribunal holding that the dismissal of an employee, for making “relatively minor” derogatory comments (outside working hours) about her workplace on Facebook, was not reasonable in all the circumstances and was therefore unfair;

–          an employment tribunal finding that comments made by an Asda manager on Facebook that it would make her happy to hit customers on the back of the head with a “pic axe”, constituted misconduct (and indeed fell into the “misconduct” category within the examples given in the employer’s internet policy) rather than gross misconduct and the dismissal was therefore unfair;

–          an employment tribunal finding that the dismissal of an employee by Apple for posting derogatory comments on Facebook was fair,  Apple having made it clear in its policies and training materials that protecting its image was a “core value” and had drawn attention to the fact that making derogatory comments in social media was likely to constitute gross misconduct; and

–          an employment tribunal deciding that a pub manager had been fairly dismissed for gross misconduct having made inappropriate comments on Facebook about her customers in breach of the employer’s e-mail and internet policy.

What seems clear from the case law is that a  clearly stated internet and social media policy is becoming increasingly important for employers.

For further advice on your company’s internet and social media policies please contact us at commercial@blasermills.co.uk.