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Fair dismissal for Facebook posts

Posted on 26th May 2011
Case law

An employee was fairly dismissed for postings on facebook mentioning customers' first names but not her employer.

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her comments had lowered the reputation of her employer and had breached the policy

Preece v JD Wetherspoons plc ET2104806/10

Background

Miss Preece (P) worked for JD Wetherspoons plc (W) as a manager. W had a handbook which provided that acts committed outside work which adversely affected an employee's suitability for the job or brought W into disrepute were gross misconduct. The handbook also contained an e-mail, internet and intranet policy. The policy provided that sharing opinions and thoughts in an on-line diary (including on Facebook) which lowered the reputation of the organisation, staff or customers and/or contravened W's equal opportunity policy would result in disciplinary action. Breach of the policy was gross misconduct.

P was involved in an incident with two customers and they were asked to leave. P dealt with the incident appropriately and in accordance with her training by W. Later a series of abusive calls were received by P from someone believed to be the daughter of the customers. Later still P posted entries onto her Facebook page referring to the incident and mentioning the customers' first names. Suffice it to say that some of the entries were less than flattering. The customers' daughter complained. P admitted making the entries but thought that her privacy settings meant that only a small number of people (40 - 50) could view them.

P was dismissed for gross misconduct as her comments had lowered the reputation of W and had breached the policy.

The decision

An employment tribunal considered that the dismissal was fair. W had acted reasonably in reaching its conclusion that P had breached the policy and lowered its reputation. This was the case even though she had not mentioned W or the pub where she worked.

In practice

Had W not had in place appropriate policies, it is likely that any dismissal of P would have been unfair. This case is a reminder of the importance of having in place policies relating to employees use of social media, which is now used very widely. As this case shows, its use can be harmful to an employer. Any policy should recognise the potentially beneficial aspects of social media as a marketing tool.

If you would like us to assist you with preparing an appropriate social media policy or reviewing your existing policy please get in touch.

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