Making derogatory or inappropriate comments on social media can have important disciplinary consequences for employees. This is so even if the comments were made some years ago.
This is well illustrated by a recent case in which an employee was fairly dismissed for offensive and disparaging comments on Facebook about (a) his supervisor; and (b) the fact he did not like his job (which on its own was relatively minor); and (c) an admission that he had been drinking while on standby – which was an express breach of company rules. The company policy on social media prohibited “any action on the internet which might embarrass or discredit British Waterways… including by posting comments on bulletin board or chat rooms”. Note that some of these comments dated back four years but they made his dismissal for gross misconduct “fair”. In this particular case it was probably the admission of drinking while on standby (although he was a member of a maintenance team – not someone such as a safety worker or driver) that was critical but it seems clear that the ban on “embarrassing or discrediting” web comments in the social media policy was extremely helpful to the employer.
At the same time, it is worth remembering the case earlier in 2015 when a football club manager was red for sending a pornographic email five years earlier – it shows that inappropriate behaviour can come back to haunt an employee and it does to an extent encourage employers to trawl through old postings to look for such material.
Another example includes an employee who is fairly dismissed for offensive non-work related personal tweets. His problem was that he was ‘followed’ by 65 of the employer’s stores and he had posted on his personal Twitter account some 28 expletives and used obscene language. His unblemished good disciplinary record was taken into account, but it was insufficient to counter the detriment caused to the employer’s reputation externally, and the employer’s relationship with his colleagues.
Likewise in a case involving Apple, which had made it clear to all employees that protecting its image was a ‘core value’ and that posting derogatory remarks about the company or its products on social media was likely to constitute gross misconduct. The end result was that the employee was fairly dismissed for criticising an Apple product in a private social media post, even though that Facebook post was made to a closed group of friends (the logic being that he could not legitimately expect his posts to be private as the friends were not subject to confidentiality over the content of his posts). Thus his dismissal was fair.
All companies should have a social media policy in place. It should set out clear guidelines on what is expected in terms of behaviour online, there should be an explicit reminder of the potential consequences of using derogatory, embarrassing, discrediting or defamatory language online.
Top social media gaffs
Great Western Hospital staff in Swindon were suspended for participating in ‘The Lying Down on the Job Game’, where people photograph themselves lying face-down at work. The staff were lying on the hospital’s floors, resuscitation tables, and even the helipad.
>> Sister Maria Jesus Galan was asked to leave the Santo Domingo el Real convent in Toledo, Spain, because she was spending too much time on Facebook. Fellow nuns said that her Facebook activity ‘made life impossible.’ This all after she used the computer to digitise the convent’s archives and help handle banking over the Internet.
>> Connor Riley was offered a job at Cisco. Her first instinct was to tweet about her new opportunity “Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work.” A Cisco employee responded to her tweet, offering to pass her sentiments along to the hiring manager. Riley lost the job before it was even started.
>> Tania Dickinson identities her job at the New Zealand Social Development Ministry on her profile as a ‘very expensive paperweight.’ She brags that she is ‘highly competent in the art of time wastage, blame-shi ing and stationery the .’ The expensive paperweight was red.