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Dismissal for posting negative comments on Facebook held to be unfair

25 February 2011 #Employment

In Stephens v Halfords plc ET/1700796/10 the Tribunal has held that an employee`s dismissal for posting negative comments on Facebook was unfair.

Mr Stephens was a deputy store manager at Halfords, where he had worked for 6 years. He was summarily dismissed for breach of trust for posting confidential information on the social network site Facebook. The facts of the case were as follows:

In early 2010 Halfords were proposing a workplace reorganisation, and consulted teams and individuals on its proposed changes. Mr Stephens was signed off sick with stress at this time, but was able to attend a consultation meeting. During the meetings he was told that the discussions were confidential and should not be discussed.

Following his consultation meeting, Mr Stephens accessed Halfords intranet and discovered that the group consultation had been completed. He therefore believed that all employees were now aware of the details of the proposed changes and that the discussions were no longer confidential.

On reviewing the website, Mr Stephens felt that it did not provide an open forum for staff to discuss the reorganisation and he therefore set up a Facebook page called "Halfords workers against working 3 out of 4 weekends" for this purpose.

Mr Stephens subsequently came across Halfords policy on social networking sites which stated that employees who made negative public statements about the company would face disciplinary action. He therefore took down the Facebook page. Halfords had already been notified of the postings however and began disciplinary proceedings against Mr Stephens.

At the disciplinary hearing, Mr Stephens said that his judgement may have been clouded due to his illness and that he would not act in the same way again. He also apologised for his actions. Despite this, Halfords decided to summarily dismiss him. Mr Stephens` appealed, but this was not upheld and he therefore brought a claim of unfair dismissal in the Tribunal.

The Tribunal found summary dismissal was not within the band of reasonable responses as no other reasonable employer would have chosen to dismiss in such circumstances.  Mr Stephens had a clean disciplinary record, he had apologised for his actions and removed the web page as soon as he realised it was a ground for disciplinary action. Mr Stephens` unfair dismissal claim was therefore upheld and he was awarded £11,350 in compensation.

Clarkslegal, specialist Employment lawyers in London, Reading and throughout the Thames Valley.
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