There are a lot of good things about social media, the speed, the scope, the varied audience and the immediacy of communicating a message to large numbers of people and businesses around the world.
One major problem with both social media, emails and the internet is the simple fact that it is very difficult to take back or delete comments, messages or data made by individuals which may come back to cause them or others harm.
A recent employment tribunal case highlights this very issue.
Mr Smith was sacked by his employer, the British Waterways Board for gross misconduct once evidence came to light that 2 year’s previously he had posted derogatory comments about his supervisors and admitted drinking alcohol whilst on standby on his personal Facebook account.
This was despite Mr Smith having an unblemished service record and the company being aware of his misconduct for some time.
Mr Smith described his supervisors as “w******, f*****, p***** and c****” on Facebook.
The company found that Mr Smith had made derogatory comments about the company as an employer and had claimed to be drinking alcohol whilst on standby, bringing his capabilities into question and leaving the company open to condemnation in a public forum.
The company had a social media policy which prohibited any action on the internet which might embarrass or discredit the company, including defamation of third parties including posting comments on bulletin boards or chat rooms.
Despite this, the employment tribunal decided that the dismissal was unfair on the basis that the decision to dismiss Mr Smith was “outside the band of reasonable responses which a reasonable employer might have adopted”.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal disagreed and found the dismissal to be fair on the basis that it was fair to dismiss Mr Smith for his comments on Facebook alone, even though they were two years old and the employer had knowledge.
This case follows previous decisions (see http://osjlaw.co.uk/employee-sacked-for-sending-lewd-emails/) and is ultimately a strong reminder to employers on the importance of having and maintaining an effective social media policy and to employees of using their brains before posting online at anytime during their employment.
It is also a reminder to employee’s that you shouldn’t bite the hand that feeds you.
It is also good news for employer’s in that a failure to respond to an employee’s earlier act of misconduct will not necessarily mean that they will lose the opportunity to take action at a later date. It also shows that a well written and policed social media policy can have teeth and save both legal fees and protect businesses from abuse by disgruntled staff.
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