Careless talk costs jobs…
By Stephens Scown Solicitors
Over 30 million people in the UK now use Facebook as a way of sharing their lives with friends. But as our attitude towards social networking relaxes, it’s easy to forget the comments we post can have serious consequences.
Recent cases have highlighted how careful employees need to be when using social media – at home, and at work. If you make offensive or negative comments you risk your employer’s reputation and can jeopardise your own position.
The recent case of Preece v JD Wetherspoon demonstrates that employees put their positions at risk if they use social media to vent their frustrations at work. In this case an employment tribunal decided that a pub manager was fairly dismissed for gross misconduct after she used Facebook during working time to make inappropriate comments about two customers. Even though the customers had threatened to abuse her, the tribunal maintained that her comments did not reflect her anger or upset at the customers, but seemed more like a joke between friends. It didn’t matter that she thought her privacy settings meant only close friends could see her messages – in fact a wider group could see her Facebook page. The tribunal found her comments were in the public domain and therefore risked damaging her employer’s reputation.
However, it’s not just comments made in work time that can lead to dismissal. In Gosden v Lifeline Products Ltd an employee was found to have been fairly dismissed for sending a racist and offensive chain email from his home computer to the home computer of a colleague who worked for one of his employer’s largest clients. The offensive email then entered the client’s email system. The tribunal concluded that the employer’s reputation with a significant client had been damaged and the dismissal for gross misconduct was upheld.
On the flip side, not every negative comment made by an employee on social media justifies a dismissal. In the case of Whitham v Club a tribunal concluded that an employee had been unfairly dismissed for making derogatory comments about her workplace on Facebook. The comments were seen as ‘relatively minor’, and the employer’s reputation with a key client had not been damaged as a result.
Everyone has the occasional gripe with work. However, instead of going online, talk through your problems with family – or raise a grievance with a manager. But, if you do find yourself being disciplined in these circumstances, then seek professional legal representation.
Stephens Scown Solicitors in Exeter, Truro and St Austell are one of the largest law firms in Devon and Cornwall offering personal, business and specialist legal advice. Stephens Scown are also the proven specialists for family solicitors Exeter.