Harassment via facebook constitutes fair grounds for dismissal
The case law around social media continues to develop with a new case being considered by the Northern Ireland Industrial Tribunal last week. Mr Teggart brought a claim against his employer, Teletech UK Limited, for unfair dismissal. Mr Teggart had been dismissed for harassment and bringing the company into disrepute as a result of him posting obscene comments about a female colleague on his facebook page and, when asked by the colleague to remove the comments, posting further lewd comments about her.
The Tribunal found that the dismissal was fair on the basis that the comments amounted to harassment, which was contrary to the employer’s dignity at work policy. This was despite the fact that the colleague in question did not have access to Mr Teggart’s facebook page. The Tribunal did not accept that the comments had brought the company into disrepute, but it considered that the harassment of the colleague was sufficiently serious on its own to justify dismissal.
This case is interesting as it demonstrates again that although an employee may have their facebook privacy settings set to ‘private’, if passed on the information on that page can still be used by employers when considering whether the comments made are sufficiently serious to warrant disciplinary action being taken.
It also serves as a reminder for employers not to assume that inappropriate comments made on an employee’s facebook page can automatically be treated as ‘bringing the company into disrepute’. The employer must have some evidence to demonstrate the impact that such comments have had on the public.
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