Readers of this blog will be aware that over the past few months there have been several reported cases involving disciplinary action taken by employers as a result of comments made by employees on Facebook. I noticed yesterday an article on the BBC website this week commenting on a further case which has arisen following the posting of content on the internet by an employee. As the article reports, on this occasion the issues arose, not as a result of Facebook comments but instead following the uploading of raunchy photographs by an employee to her personal website.
As reported in the article, Faye Bray, a former contestant of ITV’s X-Factor, was employed as a teacher at Brinsford prison in Wolverhampton but was excluded by the Prison’s Governor following the publication of the photographs in question. Her employers Manchester College, who provide teaching services to the Prison, later dismissed her in January of this year.
Ms Bray has made claims against her employers to the Tribunal in respect of both unfair dismissal and sex discrimination. The hearing is currently ongoing before the Tribunal and it will be interesting to see the outcome that is reached.
Whilst the facts are somewhat different, this case does, potentially, sound analogous to a case from 2008, Pay v Lancashire Probation Service, that was widely reported at the time. In that case Mr. Pay was employed as a probation officer by Lancashire Probation Service and was responsible for dealing with offenders and their victims. Mr. Pay ran a website selling a variety of things including bondage and sado-masochism merchandise. The website included a picture of Mr. Pay and 2 semi-naked women. He was dismissed and, following appeals to the European Court of Human Rights, it was eventually held that the dismissal was fair on the basis that these activities were inconsistent with his duties as a probation officer and would bring the probation service into disrepute. Various arguments were made, unsuccessfully, that Mr. Pay’s right to a private life and freedom of expression had been breached.
It is likely that Mr. Pay’s case will be referred to when arguments are made in the case involving Ms. Bray.
Whatever the outcome, this case underlines the dangers and complexities which can arise for both employers and employees following the posting of online content to websites or social media forums. As ever it is prudent for employers to have clear policies and procedures in place relating to the use of social media by employees to prevent incidents of this sort arising. For more information and guidance on social networking and employment law see the ACAS guidance.