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Emma O'Connor
Emma O'Connor,
HEAD OF TRAINING
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Abuse of social media – Employee dismissed fairly for posting offensive tweets
04 February 2015

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) recently handed down an interesting judgment involving an employee’s misuse of Twitter. The case remains a compelling example of how Twitter should, or should not, be used by employees and the importance of employers having a clear social media policy.

Facts

In Laws v Game Retail Limited (2014), Mr Laws was employed as a risk and loss prevention investigator with responsibility for around 100 stores. The claimant was dismissed after it was found that he had posted a number of offensive tweets (privately) online. The Employment Tribunal found that the dismissal was unfair because, it said, no reasonable employer would have dismissed Mr Laws given the circumstances. Game Retail appealed the decision.

Appeal decision

The EAT allowed the appeal and overturned the decision. The EAT held that the Employment Tribunal had failed to fully take into account the public nature of Twitter – even when purportedly used ‘privately’. Further, the employment judge had not properly consider whether the claimant’s supposedly private use of Twitter was truly private, given that the claimant was followed by 65 of his employer's stores.

Comment

This case is again evidence of the narrowing of the gap between what is private use of social media and what could be considered to be public. Although Mr Laws posted the offensive tweets outside of office hours, it could not be said that his use was truly private and did not impact upon his employment. One of the interesting points of the case was that Mr Laws was followed on Twitter by a number of employees and stores of Game Retail.

Although the EAT did not give any specific guidance to employers on how to tackle the growing issue of social media use and abuse, it is a reminder that employers must have clear policies on email, internet and social media use which includes private use outside of office hours. With the line between public and private use being so blurred, an employer who does not remind employees that they must follow the rules on use when outside of work, could find they are without a sanction.

For advice on social media use and how to draw up an effective social media policy for your business, please speak to us on 0118 952 7284 or on [email protected].

Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought.

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