Dismissal for Facebook comments unfair

Posted: 5th November 2011

An Employment Tribunal (ET) has ruled that the dismissal of an employee who made derogatory remarks about work colleagues on her Facebook page was unfair.

After a particularly gruelling day, the employee wrote on her Facebook page, “I think I work in a nursery and I do not mean working with plants.” This attracted one or two comments from amongst her 50 or so Facebook friends – the only people able to access the page. She worked as a team leader for a company that provides customer services for the Volkswagen group. The workforce comprises employees of the company and of Volkswagen.
Two of the womafacebookn’s Facebook ‘friends’ who were also work colleagues reported the exchange to her line manager, as a result of which she was sacked. The company claimed that her comments had put its reputation at risk and could have harmed its relationship with Volkswagen.
The ET thought otherwise. In its view, the comments were relatively mild, no mention had been made of Volkswagen and no evidence had been produced to show that damage had been caused to the company’s relationship with the vehicle manufacturer. The ET found that the dismissal was unfair because it fell outside the range of reasonable responses available to the employer in the circumstances.
This serves as a warning to employers not to act too hastily if adverse comments have been made by an employee on a social networking site. It is important to consider what is the likely impact of these on the business, treating ‘electronic behaviour’ as you would ‘non-electronic behaviour’.
Having in place a robust social media policy that makes it clear to employees what constitutes a breach of the policy and the likely punishment for doing so will help guide your actions and justify any action taken. We can help with this and all other aspects of employment law.