Most people would hope that offensive and derogatory remarks they had made about their employer or colleagues several years ago, would be forgotten and in the past. But not if they were made on social media, as one employee discovered to his cost.
Mr Creighton posted offensive remarks about his employer, the management team and other colleagues on Twitter in 2012, and with the passage of time eventually forgot about them.
Unfortunately for him, these comments came to his employer’s attention in 2015, which resulted in the employee being subject to formal disciplinary action and dismissal for gross misconduct. (Creighton v Together Housing Association Ltd.)
In his defence, Creighton argued that he had accrued over thirty years unblemished service, and that following the publication of these comments had continued to work for his employer without inflicting any further damage to the business.
Consequently his continued employment did not constitute an unacceptable risk to the business and a lesser penalty other than dismissal, would be appropriate.
This defence was dismissed by the employer and at a subsequent employment tribunal, at which Creighton had tried to claim unfair dismissal.
According to the Judge, the dismissal was reasonable, and the damage caused by the comments was ongoing, and not limited to 2012.
Once a comment is posted on social media, it is there in perpetuity.
Employers go to a great deal of effort to protect their reputation, and in an age where social media and the internet are widely used by the public to research a potential supplier/customer /employer, protecting that image is crucial.
Consequently, tweets or posts that damage that reputation, as well as abusing colleagues, can rightly be treated as alleged gross misconduct, regardless of how long ago they were published.
Advice to employers is to ensure they have a robust, and understandable social media policy, which clearly states that publishing offensive material, either during or outside of working hours, can result in dismissal.
Employees need to consider that anything they publish, including pictures and comments regarding out of work activities, can become an issue that affects their employment if it can be linked to the employer, such as identifying where they work in the “status” section.
Having the highest privacy settings does not mean that only friends and followers can see what has been published.
Information can be accessed through others who have “liked” what has been posted.