Employee Fairly Dismissed for Vulgar Facebook Postings about Colleague

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Posted on 18 Apr 2012

An employment tribunal has held that the dismissal of an employee for gross misconduct after he posted vulgar comments about a colleague on Facebook was fair.  The comments amounted to harassment in breach of the employer’s Dignity at Work Policy.  

In Teggart v TeleTech UK Limited T posted vulgar comments about a colleague, A, on his Facebook page.   He did so in his own time and on his home computer.   The post was read by a number of his colleagues who were his Facebook friends.  A did not read the comments herself but she was told about them by colleagues.   She asked T’s girlfriend to get him to remove the post but this led T to posting a further lewd comment. 

T was dismissed after a disciplinary investigation and hearing.  The employer considered T’s actions amounted to harassment in breach of its Dignity at Work Policy and amounted to gross misconduct.  

T claimed unfair dismissal but the employment tribunal rejected his claim.  T’s actions amounted to harassment within the terms of the employer’s Dignity at Work Policy – the comments violated A’s dignity, were unwanted and created a degrading and humiliating environment for her.   It did not matter that the comments were not made directly to A.  The nature of the comments, their vulgarity and coarseness, the intention to create a vulgar distaste for A and the dissemination of the comments amongst colleagues meant that the sanction of dismissal was within the band of reasonable responses. 

This is another example of the dangers of employees using social media in their own time but posting comments which are in some way linked to the employer or the workplace.  The employment tribunal in this case was unimpressed by T’s arguments that his right to respect for his private life, to freedom of thought and expression and to manifest his beliefs (under the European Convention on Human Rights) had been infringed.  

The employer in this case had a well-drafted Dignity at Work Policy which it was able to rely on to dismiss the employee for gross misconduct.   Employers should ensure they have the necessary policies in place to cover misconduct of this type and that the policies extend to conduct outside the workplace where appropriate.  It is much easier to dismiss an employee for misconduct if the employer can point to a flagrant breach of its policies.   

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