Another Facebook Unfair Dismissal Case

FB logo Another Facebook Unfair Dismissal Case

In the recent Employment Appeals Tribunal Case of British Waterways Board v Smith the tribunal considered whether it was fair to dismiss an employee who had made derogatory statements about their employer on Facebook.

He had been an employee for 8 years and his employer had a clear social medial policy. That policy said that the employer considered the following to be gross misconduct:- “any action on the internet which might embarrass or discredit BW (including defamation of third parties, for example, by posting comments on bulletin boards or chat rooms)”

In 2012 his manager was aware that the employee had posted a number of derogatory comments about his employer and it’s managers.

Those comments were things like: –

“(i) chipper training today and supposed to go home after it w***** supervisor told the trainer to keep us as long as he could the f***** don’t even pay u for this s***”
“(ii) hard to sleep when the joys of another week at work are looming NOT”
“(iii) ha what joy, 2 sleeps til back to my beloved work NOT”
“(iv) good old bw cant wait to see all my friends again lol”
“(v) going to be a long day I hate my work”
“(vi) that’s why I hate my work for those reasons its not the work it’s the people who ruin it nasty horrible human beings”
“(vii) why are gaffers such p*****, is there some kind of book teaching them to be total w******”

Nothing was done at the time and the comments were not repeated.

Over a year later the employee raised a grievance and in the course of that grievance investigation the manager referred HR to the Facebook comments. HR took the view that they were gross misconduct. The employee was suspended and then dismissed for gross misconduct. He appealed but was not successful and so he brought a claim for unfair dismissal in the Employment Tribunal.

At the Employment Tribunal he won his claim. The Employment Tribunal said that the decision to dismiss fell outside the band of reasonable responses which a reasonable employer might have adopted. This was because the employer had not taken into account the mitigating factors of Mr Smith’s unblemished service record and that the employer had been aware of the comments for some time and taken no action. The employers successfully appealed that decision.

That decision was overturned by the Employment Appeals Tribunal, who found the dismissal was fair.

This case clarifies that in cases where an employer has failed to discipline an employee for an earlier act of misconduct they will not necessarily lose the opportunity to take action at a later date. In this case the misconduct took place two years before the dismissal and the employer had known about it.

Another surprising element to this case is that the employer had apparently deliberately searched for evidence against an employee who was in the process of raising a grievance. The employer was allowed to use the evidence they found of past misconduct to justify summarily  dismissing him and the tribunal found that did not make the dismissal unfair.

 

This is another case showing how it is becoming increasingly difficult for employees to challenge a dismissal for gross misconduct even when the employer’s action do appear to be manifestly unfair.

It is also a very useful reminder to employers of the importance of having an up to date social media policy, without that it is likely that the dismissal would have been an unfair dismissal.

Fox Whitfield can advise employers and employees on social media law and we can also supply up to date policies.

www.foxwhitfield.com

0161 283 1276

Employment Law Solicitors – Head Office based in Manchester with offices located throughout the United Kingdom.