Case law updates

Long service not a defence for unacceptable social media comments

In Plant v API Microelectronics Ltd. an employment tribunal has rejected an unfair dismissal claim by a long-serving employee with a clean disciplinary record who was dismissed due to comments made on Facebook about her employer.

Plant had been employed as a machinery operator for 17 years with no disciplinary issues during that time. API Microelectronics brought in a social media policy that included examples of unacceptable activity, including comments online that could damage the company’s reputation. It reminded employees not to rely on Facebook’s privacy settings, as comments can be copied and forwarded to others without permission. The policy made clear that breaches of the policy could lead to disciplinary action, including dismissal in serious cases.

Shortly after, following a company announcement about a possible premises move, Plant made derogatory comments her Facebook page, which was linked to her employer’s computer system. At a disciplinary hearing, she said that she hadn’t realised her Facebook page was linked to her employer’s technology, and in any event the comment was not aimed at the company. The Company dismissed her, a decision that was upheld on appeal, despite Plant’s arguments about her length of service, clean disciplinary record and lack of computer literacy.

Plant took the case to Tribunal, claiming unfair dismissal. It noted that Plant accepted that her comment was in breach of the employer’s social media policy. She had not reviewed her Facebook profile when the policy was introduced, and there was nothing to stop family and friends from forwarding her comment on to a wider audience. The Tribunal therefore accepted that the employer had reasonable grounds for believing that Plant committed misconduct, after a reasonable investigation. Plant had been given the opportunity to provide an adequate explanation, but had failed to do so.

In rejecting the claim for unfair dismissal, the Tribunal noted that the decision to dismiss a long-serving employee with a clean record could be seen as harsh, but nevertheless concluded that dismissal was still within the band of reasonable responses.