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Fired for use of Twitter: Unfair Dismissal?

The first Employment Appeal Tribunal decision about unfair dismissal because of an employee's use of Twitter was handed down earlier this year.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal has provided some much-needed guidance over disciplining employees following their use of social media.

Mr Laws worked for Games Retail Limited. He had a personal Twitter account that didn't associate with his employer. However, he was followed by 65 Games Retail stores as well as numerous colleagues who could all see his tweets. Mr Law sent some tweets which were offensive, albeit of a personal nature. A store manager from one of the stores reported some of the tweets on Mr Laws' Twitter feed. Following an investigation and finding 28 offensive tweets, Mr Laws' employer proceeded to dismiss him for gross misconduct. 

The Employment Tribunal held that the dismissal was unfair because the Twitter account was for personal use amongst other things. So, the computer games retailer appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal. 

The Employment Appeal Tribunal then stated the following:

  • The Employment Tribunal was wrong to conclude that the tweets were communicated for private use only as Mr Laws’ Twitter account was not restricted and so his tweets were of a public nature;
  • Private usage is relevant, but a balance needs to be drawn between an employer's "desire to remove or reduce reputational risk from social media communications …and the employee's right of freedom of expression"; 
  • Employees have a right to express themselves, but this should not impact on their employment – so this depends on who you work for and what job you do;

The essential point was that Mr Laws’ didn’t use the restriction settings to ensure that his tweets went to a private audience only. He was followed by 65 of Game’s stores. The Employment Appeal Tribunal suggested it may have been more appropriate for Mr Laws to have maintained two accounts, one linking to the employer’s stores and one for his private use with restriction settings in place.

This unfair dismissal case serves as a reminder to be cautious what you say on Twitter, although each individual case will need to be considered in the context of its own facts.

Remember that badmouthing someone you work with on social media could find its way back to your employer, even with high privacy settings. Meanwhile, you can avoid risking a breach of confidentiality by refraining from tweeting about work.

If you are unsure about what you can and cannot do online without being disciplined at work you should familiarise yourself with your company’s IT policy and think about what you post. You may also want to check out our Top Tips for using Social Media and the Internet at Work.

The expert Employment Solicitors at Slater and Gordon Lawyers UK can provide you with expert legal support for people with employment disciplinary hearings. For an initial consultation call freephone 0800 916 9060 or contact us online.

Slater and Gordon Lawyers are a leading employment law firm with 18 offices in London, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Milton Keynes, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Cambridge, Merseyside, Halifax, Sheffield, Newcastle, Wakefield, Derby and meeting rooms in Bramhall, Cheshire and in Hull, Yorkshire.

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