There have been a number of cases in the last couple of years relating to unfair dismissal and the misuse of social networking sites, and the recent decision in Teggart v TeleTech UK Ltd can now be added to that list.
Mr Teggart posted several comments about a female co-worker on Facebook (including in relation to her alleged promiscuity) which were brought to the attention of his employer. Following a disciplinary hearing, Mr Teggart was dismissed for breaching the company’s policies on harassment and dignity at work and for bringing the company into serious disrepute. He raised a claim for unfair dismissal, and further claimed that his human right rights had been breached.
The Tribunal dismissed his claim. Whilst they were critical of some aspects of the investigation into the matter and did not consider that the decision that Mr Teggart had brought the company into serious disrepute had been sufficiently proven, they held that the finding of harassment was a reasonable conclusion to reach and that dismissal was a reasonable response to his actions.
They also held that Mr Teggart’s arguments in relation to the Human Rights Act 1998 did not stand. When he posted his comments on his publically accessible Facebook pages, he had abandoned any right to consider his comments as being private under Article 8. His views about the alleged promiscuity of his co-worker did not fall within the type of beliefs protected by Article 9, and the right to freedom of expression under Article 10 did not entitle him to make comments which damaged his co-worker's reputation and caused her to suffer harassment.
Although the employer’s dignity at work policy in this case did not make specific reference to the possibility of harassment via the medium of social media postings, the definition of harassment was considered to be sufficiently broad to cover the Claimant's conduct. It would though be prudent for employers to update their bullying and harassment and/or anti-discrimination policies to make reference to the possibility of inappropriate conduct being committed through the use of social media. Employers should also ensure that they have provided adequate training to managers and employees in respect of these policies. In addition employers should give consideration to having a separate social media policy making clear (1) that certain forms of misconduct such as harassment can be committed via social media platforms and (2) what is and is not acceptable use of social media having regard to the requirements of the particular organisation.