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Anyone tempted to vent their spleen against their employer on the Internet should take careful note of a case in which a canal worker was sacked after using a string of offensive expletives to describe his supervisors on Facebook.
The man was unaware that his Facebook account had been hacked and his ‘private’ setting switched to ‘public’. However, his description in explicit terms of his bosses as ‘nasty, horrible human beings’ – and his declaration, ‘I hate my work’ – were visible to millions of Internet surfers.
He had an unblemished eight-year work record and said that he was only ‘indulging in banter’ and did not intend to offend anyone. He pointed out that Facebook posts are often exaggerated and embellish the truth. He argued that his sacking was too harsh and that it was ‘convenient’ that he had been dismissed when he had outstanding bullying and harassment grievances against his supervisors.
However, his employer argued that it had been exposed to public condemnation and that he had breached his position of trust. It was also alleged that the Facebook posts indicated that he had, on one occasion, been drinking alcohol whilst on standby to deal with emergency situations.
His unfair dismissal claim initially succeeded before an Employment Tribunal (ET). However, in upholding the employer’s challenge to that decision, the Employment Appeal Tribunal found that his dismissal was within the range of reasonable responses. The ET had fallen into the trap of substituting its own views on the gravity of his misconduct for those of his employer. In those circumstances, there was only one possible answer to the issue – that his dismissal was fair.