Unfair Dismissal & Social Media

We are frequently reminded of the need to use caution when posting information about ourselves on the internet using websites such as Facebook or MySpace. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it has not taken long for cases to come before the Employment Tribunals involving situations where employees have posted derogatory remarks about their employer or a manager. Needless to say, this type of conduct is not recommended as it can have serious consequences from the employee’s point of view.

In one particular, recent case (Whitham v Club 24 Ltd (t/a Ventura) (2010)), an employee made comments on Facebook, which included “it takes a lot for the bastards to grind me down”. She was dismissed, the employer relying on its policy warning against posting information about the company on the internet. The Tribunal held the dismissal to be unfair, on the basis that none of the employer’s clients were referred to by name in the employee’s postings, nor was any evidence adduced by the employer showing that its relationship with its clients had in any way been harmed. Clearly, the Tribunal had some sympathy with the employer, however, since the employee’s compensation was reduced by 20% due to “contributory fault”.

There is quite an obvious lesson to be learned from the above: that although employees are ill-advised to freely publish harmful or derogatory information about their employer on the internet, the employer must think carefully about the disciplinary action to be taken against employees that do post such information. Certainly, leaping straight into an instant dismissal for gross misconduct may not necessarily be particularly wise.

John is a partner at Leonard Gray. He is a Business & Commercial Property lawyer with over 15 years’ qualified experience in dealing with a variety of industrial, property and landlord and tenant matters. John is also an ADR Group accredited civil, commercial and family mediator.