The dismissal of an employee with 17 years of service after she made derogatory comments about her employer on social media may seem “harsh”, but it has been considered fair by an Employment Tribunal.
The case of Plant v API Microelectronics Ltd is an important reminder of the significant value of having a social media policy in place. Employers need to need to protect their organisation from comments from employees which could damage the company’s reputation, relationships with clients and suppliers and negatively affect team dynamics.
The employee had worked for her employer for 17 years as an operator of machinery in the bonding area of the manufacturing unit. During her employment, she did not have any blemishes on her disciplinary record.
The employer introduced a social media policy. In the policy, it broadly set out:
- what is meant by “social media”
- examples of unacceptable behaviour, such as making comments that could damage the company’s reputation
- a reminder to employees that conversations on these sites are not “private”. Comments made on these sites can be copied and forwarded by third parties without their consent.
- breaches could lead to disciplinary action, including dismissal.
The employee made derogatory and inappropriate comments on her personal Facebook page. It should be noted that on her profile she had listed her employer and job title and her page was linked to her employer’s computer system. Other employees saw the comments and reported them to the employer.
She was subsequently asked to a disciplinary hearing. The employee said that she didn’t realise that her comments were linked to her company’s system and she didn’t believe that her comments were aimed at the employer. It was decided that there had been a breach of the social media policy and she would be dismissed. The employee appealed the decision, stating that the decision was not fair as she was a long-serving employee with a clean disciplinary record.
At appeal, she was once again given the chance to provide an adequate explanation, but she failed to do so. The same decision of dismissal was reached and she lodged a claim with an Employment Tribunal, claiming unfair dismissal.
Decision by the Employment Tribunal
The Tribunal took note of the following points:
- The employee had made the comments and she accepted this.
- The employee’s derogatory and insulting comments were in breach of the Social Media Policy.
- She had not amended her profile after the new social media policy was introduced.
- There was nothing preventing friends from copying and forwarding the comments to others.
- The employee’s lack of explanation for her comments.
- Employees must have been aware of the policy, what was and was not permitted and the consequences of any violations.
The Tribunal said “I repeat that it might be that one would dismiss and another would not dismiss. It may be seen as harsh but the respondents taking account of the Claimant’s long service and clear record nevertheless dismissed for a clear breach of the Policy and that would fall within the range of a reasonable response open to an employer. The dismissal was therefore not unfair and the dismissal was not wrongful.”
If you do not have a social medic policy in place, contact your Employment Law Adviser who can draft documents for you to protect your organisation’s best interests.
To find out more about our top tips on social media, read our guide here.