06 September 2011 #Employment
Whitham v Club 24 Ltd t/a Ventura
There have been a spate of cases recently concerning employees & their use of Facebook to moan about work. However, this case shows that derogatory comments about work by an employee will not always justify dismissal. Before dismissing an employee in these circumstances, the employer should have clear evidence that derogatory remarks are likely to have a serious impact on the company`s relationship with customers or other third parties.
Mrs Whitham worked for a company that provides customer services for Volkswagen. Representatives of Volkswagen worked at her company`s premises and her Line Manager reported directly to Volkswagen.
After a bad day at work, Mrs Whitham posted some comments on Facebook bemoaning her colleagues, although no individuals were identified. A number of other comments were posted in response by colleagues. Mrs Whitham`s privacy settings meant that only her friends/colleagues could see her Facebook page.
When her Line Manager found out about the comments he commenced disciplinary proceedings. Mrs Whitham was ultimately dismissed on the grounds that her comments put the company`s reputation at risk. A company policy was also taken into account which stated that employees` obligations of confidentiality extended outside of work and that "posting information about your job on the internet (e.g. on Facebook)" might lead to disciplinary action.
The Tribunal found that Mrs Whitham`s comments were relatively mild, were not about Volkswagen as such and did not involve any confidential information. Moreover, it was highly unlikely that such mild comments by a junior employee could jeopardise the commercial relationship between her company and Volkswagen. Consequently, it held that she had been unfairly dismissed.