The recent Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) case of Game Retail v Laws has held that an employee can be dismissed for offensive private tweets, even where they don’t directly relate to work and are sent outside of working time on an employee’s own mobile phone.
Mr Laws worked in risk and loss prevention at Game Retail. Whilst doing so, he set up a Twitter account with the intention of monitoring potentially inappropriate Twitter activity by employees. Unfortunately, many stores followed him in return and were party to his many offensive and expletive filled tweets. These tweets, whilst not relating to his employer, focused on a wide variety of topics and people.
Tweet topics included references to dentists, golfers, Newcastle United supporters and caravan drivers!
Naturally, Game investigated the complaint following notification by a Game employee. After following due procedure, they dismissed him for gross misconduct.
Mr Laws argued that the tweeting was done in his own time, that he was using his own device and that the activity didn’t form part of his job. Unfortunately, this argument doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny in today’s world. Nowadays, it is hard to argue that the social media accounts of a company’s employees won’t have an effect on a potential client’s perception of that firm, particularly where you have added work colleagues and retail stores onto your ‘private’ twitter account.
One issue for Game in this case was their complete lack of a social media policy. This potentially led to the case going much further than if they had been able to point to a well-drafted social media policy and if they had then followed the procedure in the policy. It would also have made it much more difficult for Mr Laws to argue that his conduct wasn’t in breach of work rules had those rules been set out in a written document.
At the end of the day, social media is all round us and the vast majority of employees have at least one social media account. Unfortunately, the instantaneous nature of twitter and Facebook makes it easy to forget to exercise caution, whether that be with friends or work colleagues.
Whilst innocent social media comments can be misconstrued on occasion, any employee found to regularly post expletive, offensive and insulting content on social media is unlikely to escape the attention of their employer for long. As Mr Laws found out, it only takes one little (blue) bird…