In the first UK high court decision on tweeting, the Employment Appeal Tribunal has held that dismissal of an employee for offensive posts on his private twitter account could potentially justify termination under the UK’s unfair dismissal rules.
The employee was dismissed after a colleague raised an anonymous complaint about the content of his tweets. The Court held that termination of an employee for offensive comments on his social media account could fall within the ‘range of reasonable responses’ open to employers. The employee’s right to freedom of expression needs to be balanced against the employer’s concern to protect its reputation.
To decide whether termination was justified, UK Employment Tribunals will look at the entire picture, including:
- Was the twitter account relevant to the employee’s role? In this case, the employee used the twitter account in his role as an internal investigator, to monitor the posts of other employees.
- Was the twitter account genuinely private? If it linked the employee to the employer, or was followed by a number of work colleagues or customers, it may not be seen as private.
- Did the employer’s social media policy or disciplinary rules make clear that offensive twitter posts could result in discipline, up to and including termination?
- Is there evidence of actual damage to the employer’s reputation, such as complaints from customers or wider publicity?
This case extends the principles already applied to Facebook comments, as in the case of Apple v Crisp where termination was justified for an employee who criticized Apple’s products on Facebook in breach of a clear internal policy.