The workplace dangers of private Facebook posts
Another ‘Facebook’ case has highlighted the risk that an employee takes when they put on line anything they would not really like their management to read. An employee of British Waterways was not allowed to drink alcohol when he was on standby, but foolishly posted on Facebook an account of his drinking on standby. Two years later, after the employee had raised grievances about him, his manager produced a copy of the posts. The employee then said that he had been lying when he wrote the posts; it was just untrue Facebook ‘banter.’ That did not save him from being dismissed for gross misconduct, because his comments ‘had undermined the confidence his employer or the public could have in him.’ This decision was found to be fair and lawful on appeal.
Key to this was British Waterway’s disciplinary policy, which stated that it could dismiss employees for gross misconduct and that serious breaches of its policies were an example of gross misconduct. Its social media policy prohibited ‘any action on the internet which might embarrass or discredit BW (including defamation of third parties, for example, by posting comments on bulletin boards or chat rooms).’ A fair disciplinary process was followed. Together this meant that BW was lawful to dismiss the employee for something it had known for nearly two years and done nothing about, and on a ‘confession’ that the employee now said was just banter and not true.
British Waterways had, via its manager, ignored the conduct for almost two years, and then dismissed the employee for it. In another IT case earlier this year, Leeds United FC was found to have fairly dismissed a very senior manager for sending porn via his work account, even though it was sent over five years earlier. He had been due a large pay-out because he had a long notice period, but instead the employer went ‘fishing’ through his email, found the old email and dismissed him for gross misconduct with no notice and no money.
The lessons to learn? For employers: have a good set of polices, including an IT one. And for employees: be very careful what you do on work IT equipment and very careful what you post on your private IT, otherwise it may well come back to haunt you.