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Case Studies

Case Studies

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A disciplinary overreaction to online comments

Published 05 July 2023

Curious Taylor was left shocked when he asked a social media question about a well-known female personality - and it led to him being quizzed about his own conduct.

Responses included highly offensive comments about the celebrity, including one that was discriminatory and another that wished her harm.

It followed Taylor, a neighbourhood operative, asking in a Facebook post what others thought about the woman, following a newspaper story about her latest antics.

Colleagues and also friends that did not work for his employer, responded with a range of mostly negative comments.

Taylor read them,  but did not respond to any, and deleted what could be considered the most offensive comments.

At a disciplinary hearing he faced allegations of breaching his employer’s social media policy and of bringing it into disrepute.

Images on Taylor’s Facebook page included a couple of him in his uniform with the name of his employer visible, so his bosses believed it reflected badly on them.

The letter inviting Taylor, who had worked for his employer for three years, to the disciplinary hearing warned that dismissal was a potential outcome to the meeting.

Taylor contacted our Employee Support Centre when he was notified to attend the hearing. He was supported by one of our representatives at the meeting.

Our representative argued the disciplinary process was unfair and the allegation should be dismissed.

He asserted the process was unreasonable and what was said to be a disciplinary investigation flawed.

The hearing was told Taylor simply asked a question and should not be blamed or held responsible for what was said in response.

Our representative argued the employer’s overreaction to what happened was evident from the start when Taylor was suspended from work.

The hearing was told it was unwarranted and an unnecessary knee jerk reaction, which set the tone for what was to follow.

Management had been provided with screenshots of the comments, which was the only evidence provided in support of the allegations against Taylor.

However, the disciplinary hearing chair claimed a number of colleagues who read the posts had been spoken to as part of the disciplinary investigation. She said they were shocked and disgusted by what they read.

The reaction by staff and the fact Taylor’s employer could be linked to his Facebook page, was cited by the disciplinary hearing chair as justification to suspend him from work.

Our representative maintained the decision taken was unfair. He pointed out if other employees were spoken to, then they are witnesses and Taylor should have been given their witness statements.

He said the failure to provide witness statements from individuals, which influenced the process was a breach of the ACAS Code of Practice and clear evidence the process was unfair.

It was asserted by our representative that Taylor’s actions could not reasonably be considered a breach of the employer’s social media policy.

He said Taylor asked a reasonable question about a topical subject at the time and should not be held responsible for the responses, as there was nothing in the policy to suggest he had to regulate the views of others.

The fact Taylor quickly deleted the most offensive comments was highlighted as evidence that he recognised they were wrong, did not agree with them and did all that he could do, and could reasonably be expected to do, in the circumstances to remove them.

Our representative told the employer he could understand its concerns given the comments made, but all disagreeable social media posts do not justify disciplinary action and in this instance it had got the process badly wrong.

He said Taylor cannot be considered to have breached the social media policy based on the evidence and, therefore, he did not bring the organisation into disrepute.

Taylor was quizzed about the comments and his social media use before the hearing was adjourned.

Relieved Taylor was informed the next day that he had been cleared of the allegations.

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