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Facebook update: You’re fired! #clearyourdesk

Apr 17, 2012

Facebook and other forms of social media are fast becoming a daily part of life as an employment lawyer.  Many employees don’t seem to appreciate that comments they write on Twitter or Facebook are public and could easily be read by their boss.  Most are fairly innocuous and along the lines of “TGI Friday!” or “Working late, again!”   But over the past couple of years there have been a handful of cases in which employees have been fairly dismissed for making derogatory comments about their workplace whilst online.   In one example a manager of a Wetherspoon’s pub was dismissed for making inappropriate comments on Facebook about two of her customers.  In another, an employee of a London Apple Store was sacked after posting several comments including “Once again f**k you very much work” and “MobileMe [an Apple application] f**ked up my time zone for the third [time] in a week and woke me up at 3am? JOY”.   It is worth noting that in both the Wetherspoon’s and Apple cases, both employers were able to take advantage of clear policies on the use of social media.   By contrast, an employee was successful in her claim of unfair dismissal after she was dismissed for posting “I think I work in a nursery and I do not mean working with plants" before adding “Don’t worry, takes a lot of bastards to grind me down.”  A Facebook friend then wrote “Ya work with a lot of planks though” to which the employee replied “2 true.”  In that case the Employment Tribunal felt that the comments were relatively mild and they did not go as far as to harm any relationships with key customers.   This month an Employment Tribunal in Northern Ireland decided that an employee had been fairly dismissed after he posted an obscene comment about the promiscuity of a female colleague on his Facebook page.  The case is interesting because it shows that employees will struggle to have a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to information posted on Facebook.  Although a Facebook page is normally only open to “friends” it is not private as comments can be copied and passed to others.   For employers, it is very important to have clear policies on the use of social media and to ensure that fair disciplinary procedures are followed before taking action against an employee.