Newsflash – Unfair Dismissal – Social Media – Reputational Damage

Morrish SolicitorsEmployment, Site News, UncategorisedLeave a Comment

Morrish Solicitors and TSSA (Transport Salaried Staff Association) recently won an unfair dismissal case where an employee was dismissed for posting content on social media relating to his employer. 

Lake v Amey Services Ltd
Sheffield ET 1807678/2013

TSSA member, Mr Lake was employed by Amey Services Ltd (ASL), a large infrastructure company delivering services inter alia to Network Rail.

In July 2013 Mr Lake was called to a site where a vehicle had rolled into collision with a wall, next to which was a warning sign reading “Beware Moving Plant.”  Not oblivious to the incongruity, he photographed the scene and posted the picture to his Facebook Account, with the caption, “Good job someone thought to sign a warning!”

After a disciplinary hearing and appeal, Mr Lake was summarily dismissed for gross misconduct.

Proceedings were brought for unfair dismissal and wrongful dismissal.

Mr Lake was successful on both counts.

His compensation was however reduced by one third for contributory fault.

In its lengthy Judgment (29pp) the Employment Tribunal concerned itself with a number of procedural irregularities specific to the facts of the case, but made a number of observations and findings that might be helpful for individuals pursuing other cases with a Social Media angle.

  • Although ASL proved no actual damage to reputation, it was relevant that Mr Lake’s actions had the potential to bring the company into disrepute, but the policy should have been clear about whether actual or potential disrepute was a disciplinary matter
  • ASL’s Social Media policy mentioned “bringing the company into disrepute” BUT there was “little, if not no, awareness amongst employees of the contents of [the policy]”
  • Mr Lake’s ignorance of the Social Media policy was “powerful mitigation”
  • It also prevented the policy from being incorporated into Mr Lake’s contract of employment
  • Mr Lake’s length of service (7 years) was in his favour
  • The Facebook post was removed after a short period of time
  • Mr Lake was genuinely remorseful
  • Dismissal was outside the band of reasonable responses
  • Other first instance (i.e. Employment Tribunal) decisions were of “little help”

Despite the last point, this decision runs very much along the lines of the previously decided Employment Tribunal authorities.

In particular training/communication of Social Media policies is a key issue in these cases.

Contributory fault seems to be a likely finding in most broadly similar cases, running at, say, 20 – 40%.

Employees should act swiftly upon receipt of a complaint.  See also Stephens v Halfords plc (2010) where the employee was quick to remove an offending post, apologised and gave assurances about future conduct.  All of these will be helpful in terms of mitigation. 

The Employment Tribunal in the case of Lake was willing to take a general view on the Band of Reasonable Responses – something we think Employment Tribunals are often (sadly) all too unwilling to wrestle with.  Taking into account mitigation, ASL had overreacted to what was, many might think, a fairly trivial act.

View the full Judgment.

If you think you have been unfairly dismissed on the grounds of misuse of social media, please get in touch with us:

T: 033 3344 9600

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