Case law updates

Unfair dismissal claim upheld as investigation ruled ”inadequate”


A paint sprayer has been awarded £28,000 for unfair dismissal after Tribunal ruled his employer’s investigation into whether he had breached social media policy was inadequate. It said the managing director of A1M Retro Classics “unreasonably confused what was required of an employee by the [company’s] social media policy” after a worker for the firm posted a Facebook status referring to an argument the pair had had.

In February 2020, Mr Austin, who had worked for the company for five years before his dismissal, was involved in what was described as an “extremely heated discussion” with managing director Mr Robinson about alleged poor work he had carried out.  That evening, Austin wrote on Facebook that he had never felt so low after his boss’s comments that day.

Robinson admitted that he did not use Facebook and did not fully understand it. When he became aware of the post, including some specific comments made by other users, he asked a manager to print them out. Austin was then asked by the workshop manager to attend a meeting in Robinson’s office with a witness present. Austin was told the meeting was to discuss his use of social media, and it was only once the meeting was underway that Austin became aware it was disciplinary.

At the meeting Austin was told that it was in the employee handbook that he must not discuss the company on social media – although the tribunal found this was not the case. Robinson also felt Austin had fuelled and incited the conversation in the comments. Following the meeting Austin was suspended and the next day Austin was told he was dismissed without notice on grounds of gross misconduct, Austin’s appeal was rejected.

The tribunal considered that there had been “no effort by the respondent to investigate what happened” and that Robinson was “unreasonably confused [about] what was required of an employee by the social media policy” and concluded that there was no evidence that would have supported the contention that the employee was engaging in a prohibited discussion. Moreover Austin was not given any proper notice of this meeting and no advance knowledge of what was being alleged against him, in order for him to prepare his defence.