Since its launch in 2004 Facebook has been a blessing to reconnect with former schoolfriends, colleagues and even extended family across the world. There is hardly a day goes by when avid users are not sharing messages, video and photos of every aspect of their day to day life.
Users, though, have to be careful when their employment is the centre of attention and as Rachel Burns (a care home manager from Reigate) discovered it could cost them their job.
In Ms Burns' case she was employed as a manager in a care home for the elderly and had many vulnerable adults in her care. Following a music night at the home, Ms Burns posted video and photographs on Facebook that were seen by a relative of one of the residents at the home. As a result the local council who ran the home eventually dismissed her for breaches of their policies.
Following a lengthy tribunal case the Employment Tribunal had to determine :
- As her conduct had been admitted, was dismissal a fair sanction to be applied? (ie was it within the band of reasonable responses);
- And, if so, it was then for the Tribunal to determine whether the dismissal was fair in all the circumstances.
In June 2017, the Tribunal decided that whilst the Council were correct to dismiss Ms Burns (as dismissal fell within the band of reasonable responses) the procedure the council followed rendered the whole dismissal entirely unfair as it contained a fatal flaw – namely, that the timescale the council gave Ms Burns to decide whether she would accept redeployment or face dismissal (two working days) was not long enough.
There have been many other cases involving Facebook and it all depends on the individual facts of the case as to what is considered reasonable or not by a Tribunal, for example; an employee of a large supermarket was found to have been unfairly dismissed despite stating that “whilst she was supposed to love her customers, sometimes hitting them with a pickaxe would make her much happier” as the Tribunal determined that it was misconduct and not Gross misconduct and therefore she should have been dismissed with notice. Yet on the other hand a tribunal in another case decided that it was fair to dismiss an employee who had made derogatory comments about the employer 2 years before dismissal.
In any case employers need to ensure that they have robust social media policies and make it clear what online conduct is acceptable, and what is not, and deal with any issues through the same procedures it would deal with any other kind of disciplinary or grievance matters.
Employers should avoid knee-jerk reactions by abandoning how they would normally handle a disciplinary issue. Instead, to avoid responding in the heat of the moment, they should stick with the proper disciplinary procedure and should include social networking in their discipline and grievance policy, giving clear examples of what will be regarded as gross misconduct and what will be considered as misconduct.
Likewise employees need to tread carefully, they need to know the policy and know the boundaries they can and cannott cross when it comes to posting for the world to see – whilst facebook does have privacy settings not everyone knows how these work and so sometimes it is better to work on the principle that unless you want the world to see it - don’t put it on the internet!