Can you sack an employee over a single tweet?
That’s exactly what a UK stockbroking firm has done, after one of its junior employees tweeted what he said was a joke about hitting a cyclist with his car.
Earlier this week, English stockbroker and university graduate Rayhan Qadar tweeted: “Think I just hit a cyclist. But I’m late for work so had to drive off lol.”
The tweet, from Qadar’s personal Twitter account under the name “Ray Pew”, was quickly retweeted, attracting the attention of local police who replied to the tweet, according to Nine News.
Qadar apologised a few hours later, saying he has never hit a cyclist and it was a “bad joke” on his behalf. He later increased the privacy of his tweets.
“Sorry if anyone thought I actually hit a cyclist. Anyone who follows me on Twitter know 99% of the things I tweet is nonsence [sic],” he said.
But Qadar’s employer, financial firm Hargreaves Lansdown, had already taken action, terminating Qadar’s employment, effective immediately.
“One of our employees has failed to conduct themselves to the standards we expect of our staff,” a spokesperson for Hargreaves Lansdown told SmartCompany.
“We find these online comments totally unacceptable. Upon becoming aware of this issue we have terminated this person’s employment with immediate effect.”
TressCox employment, industrial relations and workplace safety partner Nicholas Duggal told SmartCompany Australian employers would have arguable grounds to sack an employee for a similar tweet, with or without a social media policy.
“Obviously it is an outrageous thing to say, even as a joke, and it is connected with this work as he said he was running late,” Duggal says.
“And it became very public and was therefore potentially damaging to the company’s reputation.”
While Duggal says a policy for social media use would “significantly maximise an employer’s ability to dismiss an employee for such social media usage”, he says it is “not the end of the question” if a company does not have a policy in place.
“Other factors would be examined, including the intended audience of the tweet, whether an employee’s social media profile made it clear they are employed by the company, whether their duties require them to have a social media presence, and the reception of the tweet,” Duggal says.
And while many Twitter users use their profile to indicate their comments are not endorsed by their employer, Duggal says this does not necessarily “safeguard” an employee either but is a “relevant issue”.
David Simpson, managing director of Melbourne HR, also told SmartCompany SMEs are well within their rights to terminate an employee who damages the company’s reputation on social media.
“For an Australian small business, if a comment like that was picked up by the media and your business name was negatively impacted by a tweet that was inappropriate, absolutely you could fire them,” Simpson says.
“The tweet he made was not only grossly inappropriate, by making light of hitting and possibly killing a cyclist, he would have also sucked up police resources as they investigated the incident and no matter what he said to them, they would have to conduct a full investigation.”
“On top of that, he has also brought the company’s reputation into serious disrepute.”
But Simpson warns small business owners to be careful when deciding to take action.
“This is as much a PR exercise as it is a HR issue,” he says.
“If you fire them and the papers decide that you were too harsh, then your company’s name could be in the paper again the following day for another set of negative problems.”