In Preece v JD Wetherspoons plc an employment tribunal considered the use of social media (in this case, Facebook) in the context of gross misconduct. Wetherspoons have an email, internet and intranet policy which includes a provision that that the company could take disciplinary action should the contents of any blog lower the reputation of the organisation, staff or customers.
Ms Preece, a pub manager, was subject to a torrent of abuse by two drunken customers and was eventually able, with the help of another employee, to escort the customers from the premises. Shortly afterwards the customers’ daughter repeatedly telephoned the pub to continue to abuse and threaten Ms Preece. Whilst still on duty Ms Preece engaged in a conversation about the incident on Facebook with another colleague. She referred to the customers in derogatory tones and made light banter about the incident. Unfortunately for Ms Preece, the customers’ daughter accessed the site and read the comments. She complained to Wetherspoons who invited Ms Preece to a disciplinary hearing and dismissed her for gross misconduct.
The tribunal, whilst noting that it probably would not have imposed such a harsh sanction upon Ms Preece, found that the requisite tests in BHS v Burchell were satisfied and the investigation and hearing were fair and the dismissal was within the range of reasonable responses by Wetherspoons. Ms Preece’s argument that she had a right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights failed since her activities were in the public domain.