Unfair dismissal award to paint sprayer after Facebook post

A paint sprayer has been awarded £28,000 for unfair dismissal after a judge ruled his employer’s investigation into whether he had breached social media policy was inadequate.

The tribunal found that the managing director “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.

The claimant, who worked for the company for five years before his dismissal, was involved in what the tribunal heard was an “extremely heated discussion” with managing director about alleged poor work being carried out by the company.

The judge accepted that the managing director had “started shouting at the claimant and replied rather rudely when the claimant pointed this out” during the argument. The way in which he criticised the claimant’s competence during this meeting was also “either new or worse than usual”. 

That evening, the claimant wrote on Facebook: “I don’t think I’m a bad person but I don’t think I have ever felt so low in my life after my boss’s comments today.”

A number of his Facebook friends made comments on the post, aimed primarily at trying to reassure the claiman t, “some of which were appropriate and some of which were inappropriate”, the tribunal heard. Some of the comments were homophobic and one commentor suggested the claimant should “punch his boss in the face because it would make him feel better”.

The claimant was asked by the workshop manager to attend a meeting to discuss his use of social media and it was only once the meeting was underway that he became aware it was a disciplinary. The tribunal heard he was “shell shocked” at the way in which he was brought into the disciplinary meeting.

At the meeting he 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. Following the meeting he was suspended while a decision was being made regarding the outcome of the disciplinary meeting.

He was dismissed on the grounds of gross misconduct, appealed but the dismissal was upheld.

The tribunal ruled that there appeared to have been “no effort by the respondent to investigate what happened” and that the managing director was “unreasonably confused [about] what was required of an employee by the social media policy”.The managing director made no effort at all to find out anything about the [Facebook] settings that the claimant had and simply assumed a number of things; for example, how big the group was.” The judge concluded that there was no evidence that would have supported to a reasonable employer the contention that the employee was engaging in a prohibited discussion.

The tribunal also ruled that the claimant was not given any notice of this meeting, nor given an opportunity to prepare for it, nor had any advance knowledge of what was being alleged against him, in order to prepare any kind of defence against it.

He was awarded a total compensation of £28,560.

If an employer is to rely on a breach of a policy, it needs to be clear that the employee is in breach of it. If an employer wishes to dismiss for reputational reasons, the employer needs to be able to show what they are. 

 

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