Two employees were dismissed from their job in an abattoir in North Lanarkshire. Following their dismissal the two employees made comments on Facebook about their manager during which they appeared to threaten violent behaviour towards him (it does not appear that they were serious but rather that they were "mouthing off"). Mr Blue, who still worked at the abattoir as a food hygiene inspector replied to one of the comments saying "aye right, I wish" and "liked" the other comment. The comments were brought to the attention of management who passed the complaint on to their employer, the Food Standards Agency. They claimed that Mr Blue's actions were a "breach of trust" and unprofessional.
Mr Blue apologised and claimed that he thought he was having "banter" privately amongst friends on Facebook and that he did not intend that anyone would be hurt. He was dismissed from his position after 20 years' service. Mr Blue raised an Employment Tribunal claim and the Tribunal decided that Mr Blue had been unfairly dismissed and awarded him £32,799.13.
It is worth considering the issues that arise here. Employers should make sure that their internet /social media policy covers "out of work" use that may cause reputational damage or bring the company into disrepute. This will make disciplinary proceedings more straightforward should a situation arise. Apparently, the Food Standards Agency had issued all of its staff with guidance on the use of social media but the Tribunal stated that the guidance was directed at social media use during work.
Employees should think very carefully before posting comments relating to work. The reality is that Facebook is not private. Mr Blue commented that "It was a private conversation between friends, I thought it was just the same as having a chat down the pub. Even if an employee's Facebook settings mean that only their Facebook "friends" see their posts many cases have arisen when one of those Facebook "friends" has alerted the employer to something that has been said. Even "liking" something or "retweeting" something may be held to be the employee accepting or agreeing with a statement made originally by someone else. Depending on the nature of that statement an employee could end up being disciplined as a result.
In reality, there does not seem to have been any winners here. Although Mr Blue was successful with his claim he did not get his job back and he faces an uncertain future given the specialist nature of his job. This case should serve as a cautionary tale to both employers and employees alike.