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Effect of derogatory comments on social media

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A claim brought by an employee for unfair dismissal was recently heard in the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) - British Waterways Board v Smith [2015].  The employee had been dismissed due to a number of derogatory comments which he had made on Facebook against his employer, 2 years prior to his dismissal.

The Employment Tribunal (ET) had initially held that the employee was unfairly dismissed, however upon appeal the EAT overturned this decision and instead held that the employee was fairly dismissed and therefore his claim was unsuccessful. The EAT held that, although the employer was aware of the comments which had been made, they were able to rely on their social media policy which prohibited “any action on the internet which might embarrass or discredit” the employer. The EAT did not criticise the employer for not acting upon the comments earlier.

This case poses an important message to both employers and employees. For employers, it should act as a reminder to ensure they have an effective social media policy in place which they would be able to rely upon in a similar situation. And to employees, it emphasises the continuing importance of taking caution when posting comments on social media as doing so could potentially lead to dismissal from their employment.

For advice on both unfair dismissal claims and on company policies, please contact a member of our Employment Team.