The Employment Appeals Tribunal recently found that a former Marks and Spencer employee, Ms Arlene Toland, was unfairly dismissed. However, the Tribunal took into account the fact that she contributed to her own dismissal by participating in conversations regarding a manager on a social networking site and, accordingly, reduced the compensation awarded.

Ms Toland participated in three conversations with a colleague on a social networking site concerning a manager in the store. Although her participation was limited to commenting on posts by other staff members, she accepted that by commenting at all on such posts she participated in relevant conversations. Indeed the manager who investigated the incidents was a ‘friend’ of Ms Toland’s on the social networking site and so Ms Toland was aware that anything she said could be seen by the investigating manager. Marks and Spencer felt that her behaviour breached its Social Networking Policy. Although Ms Toland maintained that she had never seen or heard of this policy, Ms Toland was suspended on full pay and dismissed following an investigation.

As Marks and Spencer could not provide any evidence of the disciplinary process, the Tribunal had to treat the case as an uncontested unfair dismissal. The only issue for consideration therefore, was whether Ms Toland contributed to her own dismissal. The Tribunal accepted that Ms Toland’s conduct contributed to her dismissal, calling it “careless misuse of a Social Networking site”, and confirmed that the award of €18,000 reflected this finding.

This case serves as a reminder that fair procedures must be followed in the event of any potential misconduct. It also illustrates the fact that the use and misuse of social media in the workplace is increasingly becoming an issue for employers. With this in mind, William Fry recently conducted a survey regarding social media use in the workplace. The results of the survey are being finalised and will be issued shortly.