Alex Lyttle of Wards Solicitors discusses the dangers of social media

Alex Lyttle

Alext Lyttle of Wards Solicitors

Social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook can be greatly beneficial to your business. But there are also potential problems they can bring, such as an ill-thought out tweet or post going viral to more serious cases of social media causing harm to your company’s reputation, or ending the career of an employee.

Here is one such case. The Liverpool Employment Tribunal recently found the dismissal of a pub manager for inappropriate comments made on Facebook to be fair. Not only did the Tribunal consider her actions sufficiently proximate to her employment as to result in dismissal, but it also highlighted the importance of her employer’s company’s handbook relating to ‘e-mail, internet and intranet use’.

This is an example that highlights how acting innapropriately on social media sites can end in tears – both employees and employers can learn a lot from it.

The background

On May 24 2010, Miss Preece, a shift manager for JD Wetherspoons, and a colleague were subjected to what the Tribunal described as a “shocking torrent of verbal abuse and physical threats by a group of people, including customers known as Brian and Sandra”.

It was accepted that Miss Preece had dealt with the situation professionally at the time and that she had diffused the situation correctly by asking the customers to leave.

But shortly after the incident, and during work time, Miss Preece entered postings on her Facebook page disparaging the difficult customers. Several of her Facebook ‘friends’ respondent to her initial rant and a dialogue developed regarding the two customers- Brian and Sandra.

The Tribunal found that the comment could be viewed by at least 40 to 50 and possibly up to 646 people. On June 7 2010 Leslie Roache, the daughter of Brian and Sandra, complained to the company’ s customer service department about Miss Preece’s posts on Facebook.

Following an investigation, Miss Preece stated that she understood it was wrong to vent her anger on Facebook but that she thought her privacy settings meant only her work and school friends could see the entries.

At the disciplinary hearing, Miss Preece conceded that it was unacceptable to make inappropriate comments and that this might bring the company in to disrepute. Miss Preece was fired for gross misconduct. Miss Preece appealed against the decision but her appeal was not upheld on the grounds that the company had passed every stage of the test laid down, based around four key points.

  • Genuine belief
  • Reasonable grounds for belief
  • Reasonable and fair investigation
  • Range of reasonable responses

It seems that behaving in an inappropriate way in the sphere of social media can have as bad a consequence as doing so in the ‘real world’. Businesses and employees take note.

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