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Fairness of social media-related dismissal

The Employment Tribunal in the case of Plant v API Microelectronics Ltd has held that an employee’s dismissal was fair due to her comments on social media.

Facts

Mrs Plant worked for API Microelectronics Ltd (‘the Company’) for 17 years before her dismissal. During that time the Company introduced a social media policy which set out, amongst other matters, examples of unacceptable activity on social media. This included publishing comments that could damage the Company’s reputation.

The Company announced a potential office move following which Mrs Plant made a number of comments on Facebook that the Company were made aware of. This included words to the effect that she should “hurry up and sue them…” and her job description appeared as “general dogsbody”.

The Company carried out an investigation and invited Mrs Plant to a disciplinary hearing. At the hearing she did not deny making the comments or that they were directed at the Company. She did, however, say she had not realised her account was connected to the Company, which it was.

Mrs Plant was dismissed for a breach of policy and brought a claim of unfair dismissal.

The Law

Once an employer has established a “potentially fair” reason for dismissal under section 98(1) Employment Rights Act 1996, a Tribunal must then go on to consider whether the employer acted “reasonably” in dismissing the employee for that reason.

In cases of social media dismissals, tribunals will consider a variety of factors when determining the fairness of the dismissal. These include: whether the employer had a social media policy; the nature and severity of any comments; subject matter of the comments; the extent of any reputational damage caused and any mitigating factors.

The Decision

The Tribunal found Mrs Plant’s dismissal to be fair despite her lengthy service and clean disciplinary record.

In reaching its decision, the Tribunal took into account the fact that:

  • she admitted she was aware of the social media policy and its contents
  • she accepted that she had made the comments
  • the comment had led to a breakdown in the relationship of trust with the Company

Despite Mrs Plant’s lengthy service and clean disciplinary record the Tribunal found that the decision to dismiss was within the “band of reasonable responses” available to the Company after a fair and reasonable investigation and disciplinary hearing.

Comment

Inappropriate or improper use of social media could have a huge effect on the reputation of a business. Employers should make sure they have clear social media policies in place which set out the appropriate use by employees and possible consequences for non-compliance. Employers should ensure that all employees are aware of and understand the policy.

If you would like to speak to us about social media policies or any other employment law issue, please feel free to email us  or contact us on 0191 282 2880 for a no obligation chat.

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