Facebook and gross misconduct

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In The British Waterways Board v Smith, an employee posted comments on Facebook expressing offensive views of his colleagues and suggesting that he had consumed alcohol whilst on standby for work.  The fact that some of the comments were made in 2011 and that the employer was made aware of these comments around that time, but did not summarily dismiss until 2013, was irrelevant.  Dismissal for gross misconduct was within the range of reasonable responses available to the employer and the dismissal was fair.

Social media for employees

For employees, this case serves as a warning to be mindful of the content of social media posts and who is able to access this information.  The fact that the Claimant had not restricted his privacy settings allowed the Respondent to access his comments and they were viewed as more damaging given their public nature.

Social media for employers

For employers, this case highlights that failure to take immediate action in respect of misconduct will not necessarily prevent the employer from relying on the misconduct in later disciplinary proceedings.  Caution should be exercised in these circumstances.  Further, a well-drafted social media policy will help an employer address inappropriate social media activity.

If you would like advice on this area, or help drafting your social media policy, please contact Jill Donabie on 0191 211 7933 or email [email protected].