Another day, another case relating to dismissal following an employee’s posting of inappropriate Facebook comments…
Mr Teggart, who was employed as a customer service representative in a call centre in Belfast, posted a number of obscene comments about a female co-worker on Facebook, one of which mentioned the name of his employer. These comments were brought to the company’s attention by a member of the public, and Mr Teggart was subsequently dismissed for breaching the company’s policies on harassment and unwelcome sexual behaviour and for bringing the company into serious disrepute. Mr Teggart raised a claim for unfair dismissal.
The Tribunal dismissed his claim. Whilst they were critical of some aspects of the company’s investigation into the matter and didn’t feel 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 argument that he had a right to privacy under Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights 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.
I have seen situations where employers who are not particularly up on social media are daunted by the thought of dealing with a conduct issue involving social media. However, this case is a good example of a situation where an employee was found guilty of doing something – sexually harassing a colleague – which most employers would have had no difficulty with identifying as being misconduct and taking appropriate action had the conduct been committed in a more traditional “face to face” way. This is very often the case with conduct issues arising out of social media – usually the employee will be committing a more traditional kind of misconduct, it will just be done in a more modern way.
This case also demonstrates that anyone who tries to claim that comments made on the internet are “private” will face an uphill struggle.