A prison officer who was sacked for “gross misconduct” after posting “inappropriate and offensive” comments about Muslims on his Facebook page has had an “unfair dismissal” claim rejected.
The Employment Tribunal dismissed the claim after ruling that the dismissal for breaching the employer’s social media policy was “within the band of reasonable responses” and was “fair”.
The claimant was employed for 10 years by a custodial and rehabilitation services provider before his dismissal on 11 July 2018. He was “well regarded” by his employers as a “capable and professional prison officer” who had “no previous disciplinary history”.
Following an anonymous complaint, he was suspended pending an investigation that alleged “inappropriate comments about Muslims and the Muslim religion on Facebook” had been posted by the claimant while he was off duty and the comments on Facebook could be “damaging to the reputation”, and in breach of the company’s social media policy.
The claimant stated that his posts included phrases which were quotes from Tommy Robinson and were therefore “not his own views”.
The claimant was then invited to a disciplinary hearing informing him that the allegation was one of gross misconduct. At the meeting he suggested that he was not making inappropriate comments but was attempting to “educate” others who were part of the conversation.
However, the respondent held that the claimant’s actions breached four of the company’s policies and amounted to gross misconduct and concluded that dismissal was the “appropriate sanction”, thereafter his appeal was dismissed.
During the tribunal, he claimed that he had no idea that he was not allowed to quote people and that his comments had been “misinterpreted”, describing the respondent’s decision to dismiss him as a “nuclear decision”.
The tribunal decision stated “In deciding whether the band of reasonable responses included dismissal, the Tribunal considers that the respondent’s policy on discipline for discrimination and/or breach of the social media policy is clear gross misconduct. What constitutes gross misconduct in the respondent’s employment needs to be considered within the context of the work.
“The job of a prison officer involves engagement with people of a variety of religions and ethnic backgrounds. The respondent has policies to ensure that prison officers do not discriminate against any prisoner or other staff member with regard to their race or religion.
“The respondent takes a strict view on breach of the equality and social media policy. It was reasonable for the respondent to have such policies and to enforce them.
“In all the circumstances, the claimant’s dismissal for breach of the respondent’s social media policy and rules of conduct was within the band of reasonable responses.”
This highlights the importance of ensuring policies and procedures are fitting with your business!