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Employee fairly dismissed for vulgar Facebook comments…

26/04/2012

Mark Jackson

In a decision given in March 2012, an Industrial Tribunal in Northern Ireland has held that an employee was fairly dismissed for making vulgar comments about a female colleague on his Facebook page.

In the case of Teggart -v- Tele Tech UK Limited, the Tribunal held that an employee was fairly dismissed because comments which he posted on his Facebook page amounted to harassment of a female colleague and breached the employer’s Dignity at Work Policy.

The claimant was employed at a call centre in Belfast. He posted obscene comments about a female colleague on his Facebook page from home. The comment mentioned his employer’s name and was read by some other work colleagues. It was alleged that the comment had been brought to the employer’s attention by a member of the public. The female colleague heard about the comments and asked the claimant’s girlfriend if he would remove them. However that led the claimant to simply post further comments.

The claimant admitted he had made the comments but alleged that they were meant to be a joke.

He was dismissed for gross misconduct for harassing a fellow employee and bringing the company into disrepute for using its name in connection with the comments.

The Tribunal found that the comments made on Facebook satisfied the definition of harassment in the employer’s Dignity at Work Policy – it did not matter that the comments were not made directly to the colleague.

However, the Tribunal said that the decision that the claimant had brought the company into disrepute was “seriously flawed.” No evidence had been produced that it had been brought into disrepute. Nevertheless the Tribunal considered that the harassment was, in itself, enough to amount to gross misconduct and was a fair reason to dismiss.

It also held that the claimant’s rights under Articles 8, 9 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights had not been engaged as argued by him. In particular, by posting comments on his Facebook page the claimant had abandoned any right to consider the content private; notwithstanding only “friends” could view the comments.

The use of social media by employees, and what they post on social media sites, especially when outside of the workplace, can cause difficult issues for employers.  This case emphasises that a properly drafted social media policy, tailored to the employer’s business, is a must in today’s digital age.  It is not sufficient for employers to assume that inappropriate comments an employee posts on-line about their job, workplace or colleagues will necessarily bring the employer itself into disrepute.  A dismissal made on that basis alone may well be unfair.  Equally it will not be enough to simply have a policy – it will need to be properly applied – but at least having a policy will be better than having no policy at all!

If you require assistance or advice in connection with the preparation of a social media policy please contact us.

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3 Comments

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  1. April 27, 2012

    it is interesting that the tribunal still found in favor of the employer, even though they stated that the employers assertion that the company was brought into disrepute was seriously flawed.

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