Social media has many of us hooked. In many ways that's a great thing as there are all sorts of personal and commercial benefits to be gained from being active online. But as an employer you won't be alone in feeling anxious when it comes to these mediums of communication, wanting to ensure that your employees' efforts are properly channelled.
Senior managers and directors can get extremely frustrated when a social media incident happens; they'll want heads to roll. But the disciplinary process still needs to be reasonable and proportionate in order to be able to fairly dismiss an employee who has let you down.
Socia media disciplinaries are becoming increasingly common and you don't have to search too hard to find examples of employees who have been fairly and unfairly dismissed for what they've written.
In Taylor vs. Somerfield Stores, a manager who posted a YouTube video showing an employee being hit over the head with some plastic was found to be unfairly dismissed. It was found to be too harsh a sanction. The manager had apologised and removed the video which, incidentally, had received just eight hits. There was found to be no evidence of the employer's reputation being damaged.
In Crisp vs. Apple Retail (UK) Ltd an employee who made derogatory Facebook comments about Apple and its products could not rely on a reasonable expectation of privacy, even though his Facebook page could only be viewed by friends. The point was that he couldn't control how the things he'd written would be treated; they could be copied and passed on. So perhaps 'private' is never really private. This decision may appear to some as surprising but Apple had very clear policies and had trained staff on the value it placed on its brand image' they had made it clear that making derogatory comments on social media was likely to amount to gross misconduct.
In Teggart vs Teletech UK Ltd an employee who posted inappropriate comments on his Facebook page about a female colleague, including her alleged promiscuity was found to be fairly dismissed. It was harassment and that was enough to entitle the employer to dismiss even though the employer's reputation hadn't been brought into serious disrepute. The Tribunal in this matter didn't take kindly to the employee's argument that their human rights allowed them freedom of speech.
In Weeks vs. Everything Everywhere an employee was fairly dismissed after he posted on Facebook that his place of work was like 'Dante's Inferno'. After having been warned, he posted intimidating comments about other members of staff. That, together with the fact that a connection had been made between Dante's Inferno and the employer made a gross misconduct dismissal a reasonable conclusion.
Finally, in Trasler vs. B&Q it was found to be unfair to dismiss an employee who posted on Facebook that his 'place of work was beyond a f*****g joke'. It was found that the comment hadn't undermined his relationship with his employer to the extent that dismissal was necessary or proportionate and it that it wasn't reasonable for B&Q to conclude that the postings had threatened its business.
We recommend that all employers have a clear and detailed Social Media Policy that makes it clear to employees what's expected of them and then to enforce the policy consistently. If you'd like us to provide you with a policy for your company or provide some training to you staff on what is and isn't allowed, please get in touch.