An ongoing debate over the last few years is what worker rights are for social media use. The recent cases of racism following the European cup highlight the negative impact of abuse online. However, what are the responsibilities of employers regarding worker social media use? Furthermore, when is dismissal from employment justified?
Unfair Dismissal From Employment
The most common defence taken by employees in tribunals is that of an unfair dismissal. From an employer’s perspective, the best way to avoid this defence is to evaluate the workers length of service. In most instances, workers with less than 2 years of continuous service cannot use this defence. Therefore, where a worker has not fulfilled this length, they can face a dismissal from employment. However, in doing so, companies must comply with terms set out in employee contracts such as working through notice periods and payments in lieu.
“In labour law, unfair dismissal is an act of employment termination made without good reason or contrary to the country’s specific legislation”.WIkipedia
The only instance where an employee may face a dismissal without serving a notice period is where a gross misconduct has taken place.
If an employee has more than two years experience, employers must show that their reason for termination from employment fits under one of the following categories:
- Another substantial reason
For cases regarding social media, the most fitting category is conduct.
Employees can face termination for both misconducts and gross misconducts. Usual misconducts happen on full notice with the inclusion of a notice period and payments in lieu. However, gross misconducts are generally for more serious offences. Gross misconducts do not require a notice period or any payments in lieu.
For less serious offences, employers normally give prior warning to the dismissal. However, in more serious cases of gross misconduct, there is no requirement for prior warning.
Employees that face a dismissal from employment often think that their behaviour outside the office shouldn’t affect their chances for dismissal. However, this isn’t true if conduct outside the workplace affects the company, the employee or the employee when doing work.
In many cases where employees have posted abusive content online, employers may hold that the content damages their reputation.
Avoid Quick Judgements
Employers should not make quick judgements when considering a dismissal from employment. The case of Keable v London Borough of Hammersmith demonstrates this. In this case, an employee expressed controversial views at a rally, The views then shared by a BBC journalist on twitter. Furthermore, after being dismissed, a claim for unfair dismissal was brought to an employment tribunal. The tribunal would rule that the views, although controversial, were legally expressed. Therefore, the claim for an unfair dismissal was valid.
In light of cases such as this, employers should make themselves aware that tribunal cases can be costly and cause reputational damage if not in their favour. Thus employees should consider dismissals cautiously.
In cases involving social media usage, employers must remember to follow their policies and procedures, obtain legal support when doubts arise.
Having staff handbooks can help set out company policies and procedures in a clear way. Read this article to find out more.
For more information regarding unfair dismissals, or for more HR support, contact us.