The writing really could be on the wall for inappropriate social media posts
It’s understandable that from time to time employees will want to vent their frustrations about work, but doing so via social media can land you in serious trouble.
In recent years our representatives have had to deal with a growing number of disciplinary cases linked to Facebook posts and WhatsApp messages.
Many employers now have a social media policy and breaching it can lead to an employee facing disciplinary action, which can even result in dismissal.
Jake had been bullied by his manager for about 12 months at the South London supermarket where he worked. After another run-in with his boss Jake took to WhatsApp and Facebook to say he was sick of his manager, with the use of a few expletives.
Jake, who had worked at the store for four years, did not give the comments a second thought and maintained a cordial but strained relationship with his manager over the next fortnight.
So, Jake was shocked when he was summoned to his manager’s office, with a HR advisor present, to be informed he was being suspended from work. He was told it was for making inappropriate comments on social media that breached company policy.
The following week Jake was invited to attend an investigation meeting with a different store manager. At the meeting he was shown a screenshot of the comments, which he admitted making.
Jake tried to explain the comments were made out of frustration after his complaints about his manager’s bullying behaviour towards him were ignored. His manager was a former colleague before being promoted.
Jake was reassured this would be taken seriously and looked into. However, just two days later he received a letter inviting him to attend a disciplinary hearing.
Concerned Jake contacted the Castle Associates employee support centre for help.
Jake met with our representative prior to the disciplinary hearing to discuss the case. He explained how he felt he had been the target of ongoing bullying by his manager, which had started when they used to work alongside each other.
Our representative advised Jake how to raise a formal grievance and told him to write down details of incidents and any evidence he had to support his claim.
Following this our representative wrote and submitted a grievance letter to the company on behalf of Jake. Within the letter he requested that the disciplinary process be suspended and the grievance be heard first in accordance with section 44 of the ACAS Code of Practice.
The company did so and Jake was invited to attend a grievance hearing. At the meeting he produced evidence in the form of emails to show he had first raised complaints about being bullied by his current manager when they were colleagues.
The complaints had been acknowledged, but not escalated by the previous manager. The complaints that had been noted included Jake being constantly ridiculed about his weight, sexuality and being given an offensive nickname.
Jake also produced text messages from colleagues who had messaged him with comments after witnessing incidents. He also had a message from another male colleague who said that he too had a raised a similar complaint, which was ignored.
Our representative argued that the comment Jake made on Facebook and WhatsApp were out of frustration after being subjected to a sustained period of bullying that had clearly been reported and not dealt with. He maintained this was inexcusable as the company has a bullying and harassment policy stating it had a zero-tolerance approach to such behaviour.
It was also argued that the treatment Jake had endured was a significant mitigating factor in the disciplinary case, and that in the circumstances it would be grossly unfair to discipline him for the messages that did not mention the manager’s name or name of the supermarket.
Jake’s grievance was investigated and upheld. He did not face disciplinary action, but was reminded about his conduct when using social media. The manager left the store a short time later, and with the outcome of grievance and disciplinary hearings being private and confidential, the rumour was he has dismissed.