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Employers Can Dismiss Employees for Derogatory Online Comments, Even if Made Years Ago

Employers should ensure their policies, staff training, etc, make clear to employees that they must not post derogatory or insulting comments on public social media (or elsewhere) about their employer or colleagues, otherwise they may face disciplinary action – even if the posts were made several years ago.

During an investigation into a bullying allegation, an employer discovered that an employee of 30 years’ standing had tweeted derogatory and insulting comments about his employer and several colleagues a few years earlier on his public Twitter account.

The employer dismissed him for gross misconduct and he claimed unfair dismissal.

The employee argued that he had not realised his account was public, that the employer had not taken into account his 30 years’ service, and that the tweets had been posted several years before.

The Employment Tribunal ruled that the employer was entitled to treat the tweets as misconduct. The fact that they had been posted several years earlier was irrelevant. It also found that the employee had not satisfactorily explained why he had made them. His dismissal was therefore for a potentially fair reason relating to his conduct.

It also ruled that the employer’s investigation was fair and reasonable in the circumstances, and the employee’s dismissal was therefore within the band of reasonable responses open to an employer.

Operative date

• Now

Recommendation

• Employers should ensure their policies, staff training, etc, make it clear to employees that they must not make derogatory or insulting posts on public social media (or elsewhere) about their employer or colleagues, otherwise they may face disciplinary action – even if the posts were made several years ago

Case ref: Creighton v Together Housing Association Ltd ET/2400978/2016

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Jonathan Waters is the founder of Helix Law. Before qualifying as a Solicitor he worked in industry and in investment banking for over a decade. He was also the Partner in charge of Commercial Litigation, Employment Law and Property Litigation at Stephen Rimmer LLP. Jonathan has wide experience of helping and advising businesses to avoid or to deal with commercial disputes and in particular construction disputes.

This article is written to raise awareness of the issues it discusses and it may not be updated after it is first written, even if the law changes. It is not intended to be legal advice and cannot be relied on as such. Helix Law is not responsible or liable for any action taken or not taken as a result of  this article. If you think the matters set out affect you and you wish to apply them to your particular circumstances then we are happy to give you free initial telephone advice. 

Contact Helix Law on 01273 761 990 or email: [email protected]