In a recent decision by the Workplace Relations Commission (“WRC”), the Irish-owned Mr Price Branded Bargains, which operates 37 stores across Ireland, was ordered to pay €7,500 in compensation to an employee for discrimination under the Employment Equality Acts, when it was discovered that the store’s manager had shared three recordings of the disabled employee on a staff WhatsApp group making fun of his movement and behaviour. The employee only became aware of the videos in late 2015 when a former employee reported their existence to him: the un-named employee was deeply affected by these incidents, took work-related stress leave, and has not returned to work since.

In its finding, the WRC held, “it is clear from viewing the recordings that not only was the complainant discriminated against on the grounds of his disability, but his basic right, and that of any employee… to the provision of dignity at work was seriously undermined”. Although the employer claimed the footage was shared for health and safety reasons, the WRC found that the videos were provided to staff “who had no operational need or entitlement to review the material”.

Social Media Perils

It goes without saying that the mocking of any employee is something that should never be condoned in the workplace and should be prevented where possible. The fact that a manager shared the footage via Whatsapp messenger highlights once again the perils of social media in the modern workplace, and the unintended financial (and reputational) consequences it can have for an employer and its brand. Although employee Whatsapp groups can arguably instil a sense of social comradery amongst employees, they are often legal minefields. The case serves as a stark reminder that employers should have a Social Media policy in place detailing what is or is not acceptable, and how to report any breaches of a policy as soon as they happen.