Employment lawyer Laura Allner discusses unfair dismissal cases involving social media.
"I think I work in a nursery and I do not mean working with plants." These words, posted by an employee on her Facebook page, resulted in her dismissal from her job. Perhaps somewhat unsurprisingly, given the relatively tame nature of her comments, the employment tribunal found her dismissal was unfair. But when is it appropriate to take action against employees using social media and what steps can employers take to protect themselves?
Facebook, with more than 800 million active users worldwide, has changed communication. Along with Twitter and other similar sites, it means that information is now available to a potentially global audience at rapid speeds and in constantly changing ways. It is also instantaneous and often impossible to claw back once it's out there. So a quick burst of frustration tapped into an iPhone on the bus journey home can have significant consequences for both employees and employers.
Cases so far
The few cases that have made it to tribunal to date suggest that, naturally, there is no one clear rule: social-media-related dismissals may or may not be fair. Context is critical. That said, lessons can always be learned from others.
Whitham's employer was concerned by the impact of her comments on its relationship with a key client, and dismissed her. Its handbook stated that posting information on sites such as Facebook may lead to disciplinary proceedings and/or dismissal.
The tribunal found that there was insufficient evidence of client pressure to dismiss Whitham. While her employer was entitled to conclude that Whitham's comments constituted misconduct, it could have considered alternatives, such as demotion.
Lerwill, Aston Villa FC's historian, came across an article about the club that was incorrectly attributed to him. The article was being criticised on an unofficial forum. Lerwill was concerned about the effect on his reputation so he posted comments in the forum (some of wh