This case study illustrates the very real risk many employers face should their employees take to social media platforms when expressing a concern or negative opinion relating to the workplace. In extreme cases, actions have led to social media dismissal cases in the UK, and internationally, with some instances making the national media.
Given that there are 1.28 billion daily active users according to latest research, it’s easy to see how an individual post has the ability to, and regularly does, reach a mass audience at an alarming pace.
From time to time, employees will experience frustration at work and often want to vent these. The problem is that doing so on social media or expressing views that could be perceived to be on behalf of the employer can cause either intentional or unintentional damage to the brand. In considering what action to take, an employer should consider:
- The nature of what has been said;
- the likely audience of the subject matter, including privacy settings and whether the employee identifies themselves as working for an employer;
- the reputational or likely reputational damage;
- the employee’s intentions;
- The employer’s social media policy and training given.
An employee of a nursing home held three years of service as a carer. One day, on her Facebook page, the employee had posted: “What a useless day. Residents’ lives being put at risk, not evacuated when fire alarm goes off, what a joke.”
The employee’s Facebook account could be viewed publically, which meant that family members of residents had seen the post and brought it to the employer’s attention, as had other members of staff.
Furthermore, the employee stated that she worked for the employer on her profile page. The employee was fully aware that the fire alarms were triggered by a fire alarm company who were carrying out maintenance work on faulty sensors and that residents were never in any danger. The employer wanted to dismiss.
The Employer’s Social Media Policy:
In this case, the employer’s social media policy stated:
“Social networking sites and blogs offer a useful means of keeping in touch with friends and colleagues, and they can be used to exchange views and thoughts on shared interests, both personal and work-related.
The Company does not object to you setting up personal accounts on social networking sites or blogs on the internet, in your own time and using your own computer systems. However, you must not do so on Company media or in work time.
You must not link your personal social networking accounts or blogs to the Company’s website. Any such links require the Company’s prior consent.
You must not disclose Company secrets, breach copyright, defame the Company or its clients, suppliers, customers or employees, or disclose personal data or information about any individual that could breach the Data Protection Act 1998 on your blog or on your social networking site.”
Was it Safe to Dismiss?
Despite there being clear evidence that the employee’s concerns were not based on a reasonable belief and of reputational damage to the employer, a dismissal may well have been unfair as there was no indication that an employee may be dismissed for breach of the policy.
Further Cases Involving Social Media
A food inspector who dismissed after ‘liking’ a Facebook comment about his boss being attacked with a chair. His employer dismissed for a breach of trust. He was awarded over £32,000 in compensation for unfair dismissal. In the judgment, the tribunal found that although the employer had a social media policy, it did not cover actions outside of the work environment.
An employee posted negative comments online about his employer and their products. The tribunal held that the comments were likely to damage the employer’s reputation. The dismissal was fair because the employer had given the employee specific training on how to use social media, including a comprehensive social media policy.