Personal remarks on twitter can be reasonable grounds for disciplinary action by an employer. That’s the finding of the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) after an employer dismissed a member of staff for posting allegedly abusive, non work-related messages on his personal Twitter account. The recent case of Laws v Game Retail Limited concerns the dismissal of an employee for misusing Twitter and has highlighted the dangers of social media in the workplace.
Mr Laws worked at Game Retail Limited as a risk and loss prevention investigator. Using his private Twitter account he followed the Twitter feeds of 100 Game retail stores in order to monitor stores’ Twitter feeds for inappropriate content and 65 stores followed him back.
However, in his own time Mr Laws also posted a number of tweets to this account which were not related to his work or to his employer, but were offensive to, “dentists, caravan drivers, golfers, the A&E department, Newcastle supporters, the Police and disabled people”. Game discovered the tweets and dismissed Mr Laws for gross misconduct.
The Employment Tribunal held that Mr Laws had been unfairly dismissed. The Tribunal’s view was that Mr Laws’ tweets were unrelated to work and were not made during work time. Also, there was no evidence that other employees or customers would have seen the offensive tweets. The Tribunal were also swayed by the fact that Game did not have a social media policy in place at the time of Mr Laws’ dismissal specifically stating that such conduct could lead to dismissal for gross misconduct.
Game appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) and won. In upholding the appeal, the EAT held that the 65 stores following Mr Laws would have seen the offensive tweets and, since Mr Laws had not engaged any privacy settings on his account, so could any number of customers.
Social media usage needs to be clarified within terms of employment, as employers need to make it clear what online conduct is considered to be unacceptable, whether made on behalf of the company or personally.
A further tribunal hearing will now decide the final outcome in the case of Game Retail Limited v Laws, in the light of the EAT’s ruling.