Three employees of Alten, a major consulting and engineering company, had been dismissed for serious professional misconduct after having criticised their company and supervisors on Facebook wall.

The employer was informed by another employee who forwarded the Facebook comments to the management. The company decided to fire the employees on the ground of “incitement to rebellion and vilification of the company”.

Two of the employees challenged their dismissals before the Labour law court claiming that they had not exceeded their freedom of speech (based on Article L 2881-1 of the Labour law code) and that Facebook was a private forum. Furthermore, the various statements were posted from home and on a Saturday night. The court had to make the balance between the freedom of speech of employees, the apparent disorder that the employees may cause within the company and the power of sanction of the employer in the event of serious harm to the company.

The decision was particularly awaited because the use of social networks clearly raises the issue of the limits on the respective rights and duties of employers and employees, especially with regards to loyalty of employees.

The first Court formation composed of unprofessional judges, electives of employers and employees, had been unable to give a ruling. The case was then remitted to a professional Court who published its decision yesterday.

On both cases, the Court decided that the serious professional misconduct was constituted and thus that the dismissals were fair. In one case however, even if the grounds of dismissal were confirmed, the dismissal procedure was judged unlawful.

This ruling clearly decides that employees have to be “politically correct” to their employer when using social networks and will undoubtedly be a precedent for further cases. This is also a clarification that Facebook is a public forum, as one would have guessed.