Social Media and Dismissal
The recent case of Plant v API Microelectronics Ltd ET/3401454/2016 highlights the importance of being mindful of your comments on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter but also brings into the spotlight the need for Social Media Policies for companies, even those with just a few employees.
In this case, the Company introduced a Social Media Policy that gave guidance on what it considered as posting responsible content on social media sites and provided a non-exhaustive list of the sort of things that employees should not be doing such as making comments that could damage the reputation of the company, that are disrespectful, insulting, offensive or discriminatory or comment on sensitive business related topics. The policy concluded by stating that any breach of the policy will be taken seriously and may lead to disciplinary action and serious breaches will be regarded as gross misconduct and may lead to summary dismissal.
Ms Plant, an employee, had 17 years’ service with the Company and an unblemished disciplinary record. Following an announcement by the Company, that they were considering moving premises, Ms Plant posted a comment on Facebook stating, “PMSL [piss myself laughing] bloody place I need to hurry up and sue them PMSL [piss myself laughing]”.
Ms Plant’s Facebook profile was linked to the Company page and stated the Company twice as her employer as well as stating “general dogsbody at API Technologies Great Yarmouth”.
Ms Plant was invited to a disciplinary hearing to discuss her actions and was afforded the opportunity to give an explanation for the comments and stated that she didn’t realise her Facebook was linked to the Company and she did not believe that the comments were aimed at the Company. Ms Plant failed to offer another explanation for the comments.
The Company took the view that, considering their Social Media Policy and the derogatory nature of Ms Plant’s comments, that Ms Plant should be dismissed. This was communicated to Ms Plant and she was given the right to appeal which she took advantage of stating that the decision was unfair because of her length of service and previously clean disciplinary record.
The dismissal was upheld at the appeal meeting.
Ms Plant took the matter to the Tribunal claiming unfair dismissal and the Tribunal upheld the Company’s decision to dismiss Ms Plant, stating that Ms Plant was not unfairly dismissed as the decision to dismiss her was within the band of reasonable responses open to an employer and pointed out that Ms Plant “was aware of the policy and one assumes she read it, she must have been aware what was and what was not allowed…In the absence of an adequate explanation…the [Company] was entitled to believe that these comments were aimed at the [Company]”
The Tribunal concluded by stating that, “It may be seen as harsh but the [Company] taking account of [Ms Plant’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.”
However, the Company were entitled to dismiss Ms Plant and they had introduced a Policy and distributed this to all staff and it was the employees’ responsibility to ensure that they adhered to this policy and reviewed their social media profiles to ensure they were not in breach.
Have you got a Social Media Policy and distributed this to all of your staff, making them aware of what the Company considers acceptable?