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Employers should exercise caution dismissing for inappropriate use of social media

The employment Appeal Tribunal, in a recent decision, provided guidance as to inappropriate comments (cyber bullying) made on Facebook in respect of another employee.

Mr. Daly had made inappropriate comments about another employee on Facebook. The employer considered this to be a public forum and constituted a form of bullying and, therfore, gross misconduct.

Mr. Daly was dismissed.

The employment Appeal Appeal Tribunal (EAT) considered that the dimissal amounted to Unfair Dismissal for the following reasons;

-The finding of gross misconduct was to “conclusive” in the absence of consideration of any other alternatives – a warning etc.

– The staff handbook and other policy documents did not deal with bullying in the cyber sense or in the virtual sense and did not have Social Media-specific policies. Therefore, the employee (in this case, an otherwise outstanding employee) could not have known that his actions would constitute gross misconduct.

The lesson to employers is simple. We live in an ever-changing world and the need to have specific Social Media policies and other policies as technology develops is paramount. Vague and “off-the-shelf” policies which are not tailored to the specific circumstances of an employer’s business are not likely to be attributed with any determinative weight by an employment Tribunal and this risks a finding that any dismissal of an employee is unfair.