Can a joke shared on Facebook land you in hot water with your employer, even though you didn’t mean it? It would seem that is the case and local employment law specialist Alan Matthew from Miller Hendry Solicitors has issued a warning that a dismissive attitude to your employer on social networks, may just earn you a dismissal in return. 

At a recent employment tribunal, British Waterways Board v Smith, the claimant had made derogatory comments on Facebook about his managers and work, and a claim that two years earlier he had been drinking whilst on standby.

During standby periods, workers are not permitted to consume alcohol. While the claimant denied that he had, in fact, been drinking and that his comments were just banter, he was summarily dismissed on the grounds of gross misconduct. His employer claimed his comments had undermined the confidence his employer or the public could have in him.

Despite finding that the employer had carried out a reasonable investigation and had a genuine belief, based on reasonable grounds, that the claimant had made the comments, an earlier employment tribunal found that the dismissal was unfair. They claimed the employer had failed to consider the claimant’s mitigation, including the point that some claims made on Facebook are exaggerated or not true.

However the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) overturned that decision and held that the dismissal was fair. The EAT said that such cases fall to be determined according to the ordinary principles of law. Having found that the procedure was fair, the employment tribunal concluded that the Claimant’s mitigation was taken into account and that the employment tribunal had substituted their view for that of the employer.

Employment law expert at Miller Hendry Solicitors commented:

“This is an interesting ruling but, in essence, it very clearly outlines the risks that people may be taking with their livelihoods by, perhaps, taking social media sharing less seriously than they should. Conversations and banter that may have previously only been shared between friends around a quiet pint in the pub is now being seem by hundreds of people and is largely considered to be public. A simple joke, taken out of turn, may now subsequently lead to you losing your job.”

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