Dismissal for Tweeting

10 June 2015

Game Retail Ltd v Laws

Social media is a fairly controversial aspect of employment law, which continues to develop as technology itself evolves. It has opened up great opportunities for companies with regards to marketing and connecting with potential customers, clients or suppliers. However, what is the approach a company should adopt when an employee’s personal presence on social media potentially conflicts with their business interests?

Game Retail Ltd (“Game”) experienced this with regards to a number of offensive tweets by one of their managers, Mr Laws, who was responsible for overseeing ‘risk and loss prevention’ and accountable for around 100 stores. He ‘followed’ many of these stores on twitter from his personal account, largely for the purpose of monitoring their activity, and 65 of the stores also followed him (meaning they were able to view his personal tweets). Mr Laws’ personal profile did not specifically link him to Game, though it is noted that he made no attempt to restrict the privacy of his personal tweets through the available settings.

In July 2013, a different manager at Game raised concerns over Mr Laws’ tweets. The tweets in question are too explicit for us to repeat, although examples can be found in paragraph 13 of the judgment. In summary, the tweets insulted several groups, including “dentists, caravan drivers, golfers, the A&E department, Newcastle supporters, the police and disabled people”. Following a company investigation, Mr Laws was dismissed for gross misconduct.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal held that this was a reasonable dismissal. It must be stressed that each case will be fact-sensitive but, in this instance, it was deemed that the tweets could not be considered private. The fact that Mr Laws had followed 100 stores on Twitter “ for a work purpose” was specifically noted in the judgment. Interestingly, a similar case held that posts on an employee’s Facebook page were private. This would appear to suggest a difference between Facebook and Twitter with regards to their public nature.

Employers should ensure that they have a clear Social Media Policy. Such a policy should state what is expected of employees when it comes to social media postings and should certainly emphasise that personal and work-related accounts should be kept separate. Alpha can help. We can tailor such a policy so that it meets the specific needs of your business. If this is something you would like to explore, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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