Worker was “fairly” sacked after bad mouthing her employer on social media

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A long serving employee who made derogatory comments about her employer on Facebook was fairly dismissed, an employment tribunal has found.

The employee, named as Mrs E Plant, had worked for Norfolk-based API Microelectronics Ltd as a machine operator for 17 years and had a clean work history with no previous disciplinary issues.

However, she was dismissed for breaching the firm’s social media policy after she took to Facebook to vent her anger following the company’s announcement that it was considering moving premises.

The Tribunal heard that API Microelectronics’ had a social media policy in place, which provided employees with examples of unacceptable social media activity, including placing comments online that could damage the reputation of the company. It also made it clear that breaches of the policy could lead to disciplinary action, including dismissal in serious cases.

The Tribunal was told that Mrs Plant’s social media comments, which appeared to be a reference to API Microelectronics, included a number of expletives but when she was challenged about them during a disciplinary hearing, she claimed that she did not believe that the comment was aimed at the company.

Rejecting Mrs Plant’s claims for unfair dismissal, the Tribunal noted that the decision to dismiss her despite having many years’ service with a clean record, was fair despite the fact that it could be seen by some as “harsh.”

In its conclusion, the Tribunal stated: “The claimant was aware of the policy and one assumes she read it, she must have been aware what was and what was not allowed….

“In the absence of an adequate explanation from the claimant…the respondent was entitled to believe that these comments were aimed at the respondent…

“It may be seen as harsh but the respondents taking account of the claimant’s long service and clear record nevertheless dismissed for a clear breach of the policy and that would fall within the range of a reasonable response open to an employer.”

Plant was given the opportunity to provide an adequate explanation, but failed to do so at the disciplinary and appeal hearings.

Lara Murray, an Associate Solicitor and employment law expert with Palmers, said: “This case, which was upheld on appeal, highlights the dangers of taking to social media to voice your displeasure over any issues relating to the workplace.

“Many employees mistakenly believe that comments left on social media sites such as Facebook are an extension of their rights to free speech or are private and confidential.

“However, as the comments could be viewed by potential clients and members of the public, leading to a company’s reputation possibly being damaged, employers are within their rights to safeguard their position by putting in place a policy regarding what is considered unacceptable on social media.

“The clear lesson from this Tribunal is that any breach of an employer’s code of conduct – which includes social media policy – could be used as grounds for dismissal.”

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