Legal

Court finds employee unfairly dismissed after “liking” a Facebook comment

Cara Waters /

An employee in the United Kingdom has been found to be unfairly dismissed after “liking” a derogatory and threatening comment about his employer on Facebook.

Former British Food Standards Authority employee Alan Blue was awarded £30,000 ($55,000) after he was dismissed for liking comments in a conversation on Facebook by two former colleagues who had recently been dismissed.

One wrote about the manager being attacked, and Blue wrote: “Aye right, i wish.”

The other sacked employee then wrote that his boss was “lucky a never f***ed a chair aff his heed [sic]” and Blue ‘liked’ the comment.

Blue defended his actions saying he thought he was having a private conversation with friends, like “banter at the pub”.

The Scottish Herald reports the Food Standards Authority launched an investigation claiming the posts were a “breach of trust” and “not professional”.

The agency also claimed all of its employees had been issued with guidance on the use of social media.

But a British employment tribunal found the dismissal was unfair and Blue’s employment contract had been breached.

The tribunal found the Food Standards Authority’s social media was “primarily directed at use at work”.

The tribunal also took into account Blue’s otherwise exemplary employment record over 20 years and found there was no reason to believe his performance would change because of a single example of “foolish” participation in an online conversation. 

Employment law expert Peter Vitale told SmartCompany it is likely an Australian tribunal would come to a similar conclusion.

“It’s another example of the fact that employers are increasingly looking to hold employees accountable for material that is posted on social media whether it is inside working hours or not,” he says.   

“In this case they were not able to establish that there was a genuine threat to the manager.”

Vitale says the tribunal was also influenced by Blue’s 20 years of unblemished service, which would be a factor Australian courts and tribunals would also look at.

He says increasing numbers of employment law cases are likely to involve social media use.

“The starting point for employers is to have a very clear policy about the use of social media,” he says.

This policy should make it clear that “liking” someone else’s post can also be a breach of the policy. 

“If you are planning to take legal action the lesson is that you have to be able to draw a link between the social media content and some genuine form of concern relating to the workplace,” Vitale says.

The UK case follows the recent move by the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry to stand down its chief economist following comments he made on Facebook.

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Cara Waters

Cara Waters is the former editor of SmartCompany. Previously, Cara was a senior reporter at the Financial Times website FT Adviser in London and she also worked for The Sunday Times in London.

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