Social media dismissals

An increasingly common topic our HR Consultants advise on is the inappropriate use of social media.  Mainly on Facebook but not exclusively, employers are often made aware of their employees posting inappropriate comments on social media outlets, and want to take disciplinary action, usually dismissal.

There are lots on connotations to this subject, it could be that the employee has used the company’s computer equipment when not permitted to do so, it could be posted outside of working hours but the comments detrimental to work colleagues, clients and customers, and perhaps one of the most common comments we get is that it shows them partying the night away whilst signed off sick!

The variety of cases we come across strengthen the argument that each case must be judged on it’s own merits.  Having either a Social Media Policy in place or a Computer Control Policy is paramount in building a strong case for dismissal in these circumstances.  Employees will be aware as to what it or is not acceptable and therefore if they breach a company rule they know they will be subject to formal disciplinary action.

The severity of the disciplinary action needs to be reasonable in terms of the severity of the actual breach.  A recent tribunal claim ruled that an employee had been unfairly dismissed after she was sacked for posting a comment on Facebook.  In Whitham v Club 24 Ltd t/a Ventura Mrs Whitham was dismissed for posting the comment “I think I work in a nursery and I do not mean working with plants.”  Her employer deemed that the comment was unacceptable and could have damaged their working relationship with a customer.

It transpired however that Mrs Whitham had her privacy settings to only allow her friends view her Facebook profile and she had just 50 friends on her account.  This did not include any customers.  Therefore the chances of her comment bringing the company name into disrepute or damaging working relations with customers was negligible and the tribunal ruled that it certainly was not worthy of dismissal.

Therefore employers are strongly advised to very thoroughly investigate any such incident in order to ensure that action taken is commensurate with the severity of the employees’ actions.