Social media has opened powerful new avenues for marketing for the hospitality industry. At the same time the potential for misuse of the channel by staff cannot be over stated. As an employer you need to be well prepared to deal with inappropriate use by employees. 

We have previously reported the case of Preece v JD Wetherspoons Plc. In that case the employer was found to have been justified in dismissing a duty manager whose inappropriate comments on Facebook about customers were seen by the sister of one of the customers mentioned.  See our article “Don’t let Facebook postings damage your business”.

By contrast, in another case, Whitham v Club 24 Ltd, the employer’s dismissal was found to be unfair.  Ms Whitham posted comments on Facebook about her colleagues and working conditions.  These comments could only be seen by her “friends” – however this included some colleagues and superiors.  Ms Whitham made these comments outside of working hours and using her own pc.  There were no complaints made as a result of her postings; the employer’s name was not mentioned and there was no evidence that there had been any damage caused to the employer’s reputation.  The Tribunal found that the employer acted unfairly when it dismissed her for making these comments. 

The following points from the decision are of interest:

  • The employer had failed to investigate whether the comments had actually caused any damage to its business and no evidence of any genuine damage was produced at the hearing
  • The employer did not have an email and internet policy which covered adverse comments made on Facebook.  This was a crucial point in the Preece v Wetherspoons case.  Wetherspoons had excellent documentation which made it clear that the use of Facebook in a defamatory way was a disciplinary issue entitling the employer to summarily dismiss an employee.

Email/Internet policy
The fairness of a dismissal will depend on the facts of each case individual case, however, having relevant documentation in place will usually assist an employer who wishes to dismiss an employee for inappropriate use of the internet. 

The Wetherspoons case highlighted the need for comprehensive documentation and policies of which staff are made aware.  A good policy that is properly communicated to the workforce can make any disciplinary process far easier, less risky and less controversial in the workplace.  The documentation was lacking in the recent Whitham case.

If you do not have an email and internet policy this is something which you should introduce urgently.  Even if your staff do not have internet access at work you should still have a social media policy prohibiting staff from bringing your business into disrepute even if comments are made when staff are not at work.  The policy should make it clear to them what is expected of them when using social media sites even outside work. 

If you have such a policy remember to review it regularly to ensure that it remains effective and in accordance with current legislation. 

See also our article “Taking a poke at employers – defamation and Facebook

The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the present time and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.