With the rise in the use of social media, cases involving social media are becoming ever more common. In this recently handed down Judgment the Tribunal found that the dismissal was neither wrongful nor unfair.
Mrs Plant had been employed by the Respondent for 17 years as a machinery operator. At the time of her dismissal she had a clean disciplinary record.
In December 2015, the Respondent introduced a new social media policy that provided, amongst other things, a list (which was not exhaustive) of the sort of things that employees should not be doing such as making comments that could damage the reputation of the company. The policy reminded employees that conversations between friends on social media were not truly private and even these conversations have the potential to cause damage. The policy concluded that any breach would be taken seriously and may lead to disciplinary action.
Sometime in or around August, the Respondent announced that it was considering moving its factory. This caused tension and concern amongst staff. Shortly after the announcement, Mrs Plant made the following comment on her social media page:
“PMSL [pissing myself laughing] bloody place I need to hurry up and sue them PMSL.”
Mrs Plant also had her job title on her social media page as “general dogs body”.
As a result of this, she was invited to a disciplinary hearing. At the hearing Mrs Plant did not offer an explanation as to her comment other than to say that she did not believe that the comments were aimed at the Respondent.
Having considered the comments and as they were in breach of the social media policy and Mrs Plant had not given an adequate explanation, the Respondent took the decision to dismiss.
Mrs Plant appealed the decision on the basis that it was unfair given the fact she had worked for the company for 17 years and there had been no disciplinary issues during that time.
At the appeal, Mrs Plant was once again given the opportunity to provide an explanation for the comments but did not expand further than the previously provided reason. As a result the decision was upheld.
Mrs Plant brought a claim for wrongful and unfair dismissal. The Tribunal found that although it could be seen as harsh to dismiss an employee with a clean record, the Respondent had dismissed her for a clear breach of the social media policy and that would fall within the range of reasonable responses open to an employer.
The Tribunal accepted that the Respondent had reasonable grounds for believing that Mrs Plant committed misconduct, after a reasonable investigation. They also found that she was provided with the opportunity to provide an adequate explanation, but failed to do so at the disciplinary or appeal hearing.
The Tribunal did on a number of occasions refer to the fact that one employer might dismiss and another would not in the circumstances but concluded that, although it may be considered harsh, it was not unfair or wrongful.
- Do you have a social media policy? If not, given the rise in the use of social media you may wish to consider implementing such a policy.
- If you do have a policy, carry out regular reviews to ensure that it is up to date and accurately reflects the company’s position in relation to the use of social media.
- If you find an employee has/is posting inappropriate comments, you may wish to consider taking disciplinary action against that employee.
- If you do take action, ensure that a fair and full investigation is carried out before reaching a decision.
Just because the Tribunal in Plant case found that the decision was not unfair or wrongful, this is not to say the Tribunal would not find the other way in future cases.