Derogatory Facebook comments: dismissal fair?
Posted on 12th November 2015 at 08:16
In the case of David Smith, the respondent to his employers’ successful Employment Appeal Tribunal appeal in British Waterways Board v Smith, it was indeed. He will no doubt have kicked himself for insulting his supervisors in robust industrial language on his Facebook page, and for failing to convince the disciplinary panel that his Facebook account had been hacked after online stalking.
But that, however, is only part of the story. A colleague who was also found to have posted highly offensive Facebook comments escaped with a final written warning. Another whose comments were criticised but not offensive was let off with an oral warning. What tipped the balance?
In Mr Smith’s case, his role required him not to drink alcohol when on standby. His Facebook postings also boasted that he had done so, in defiance of the requirement. With his employer thereby left open to condemnation on a public forum, dismissal fell within the range of reasonable responses open to a reasonable employer. It will no doubt have helped greatly that it had a written policy that barred employees from “any action on the internet which might embarrass or discredit British Waterways, including defamation of third parties, for example by posting comments on bulletin boards or chat rooms…”
And here’s a twist. When did Mr Smith post the comments? Two years before his dismissal. Did that provide any scope for a plea for leniency? It did not.
The lessons? Employers can reap clear benefits from a written social media and internet policy, and employees may eventually have to pay a high price for failing to exercise caution when posting online.
Tagged as: Solicitor
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