The disciplinary fallout from a bad online customer review
Published 21 June 2023
Social media can be wonderful at times, create a minefield of problems for employers and be a nightmare for employees, as in Ella’s case.
Positive online reviews for a company can lead to a boost in business while negative reviews can be disastrous.
Retail manager Ella faced a disciplinary hearing and allegations of bringing her employer into disrepute after a number of negative comments were posted about her store.
The messages were on an open community Facebook group in the area where the shop, which Ella had run for four years, was located.
It was unclear how the messages, which were mainly about store assistants came to the attention of management. There were many criticising staff, which included descriptions of them being rude, unhelpful and lazy.
But there was one message that specifically referred to Ella, which led to serious trouble for her.
One person wrote that it was a waste of time complaining ‘about useless staff’ because the manager will do nothing, and she is even worse.
The individual claimed they made a complaint to the manager, she showed no interest, was very rude and abrupt and effectively told them if they had a problem to go shop elsewhere and not to come back.
Ella was hauled in front of her bosses and confronted with the comment.
She was shocked and left bewildered because she could not recall any such incident of a customer raising a complaint with her about staff.
In any event she insisted she would never treat a customer in such a manner, and had never done so.
Ella was then shown other messages about staff and effectively told she was to blame.
She was suspended from work and informed the matter was being taken very seriously because it had caused significant harm to the previously good reputation of the business.
Ella was left shaken, distressed and confused by the situation. It was one of her colleagues who advised her to contact our Employee Support Centre.
The letter inviting Ella to a disciplinary hearing included all of the evidence to support the allegation of bringing the employer into disrepute.
The total of that evidence was screenshots of messages and a copy of the employer’s disciplinary policy.
Our representative was concerned by the lack of evidence of a thorough and fair disciplinary investigation, given one potential outcome to the disciplinary hearing could be dismissal.
Ella under the terms of her suspension from work could not have contact with colleagues, but she was informed that no other member of staff was facing disciplinary action as a result of the Facebook posts.
At the disciplinary hearing our representative asserted Ella had been singled out and was unfairly being made a scapegoat.
He highlighted to the hearing other negative posts, including clearly identifiable descriptions of staff, and made the point similar disciplinary action was not being taken against them.
Our representative strongly maintained the investigation was inconsistent, flawed and unreasonable, especially as the matter was considered serious by the employer.
The disciplinary hearing chair was told the investigation process did not adhere with the ACAS Code of Practice guidance for conducting such a process, which was the best indication it was unfair and Ella was being treated unreasonably.
Our representative said there was no tangible or credible evidence to support that Ella ever acted in the manner described in the review, which meant the allegation should be dismissed.
He told the hearing Ella categorically denied the allegation, which was simply accepted by the employer as factually correct, without question or any evident attempt to establish the facts. It was added that this was wrong in the circumstances and grossly unfair.
Our representative presented an emphatic rebuttal of the case against Ella.
She was asked questions about the review, and maintained it was untrue and that she had not previously been made aware of any concerns about staff.
After the case was fully heard, the hearing was adjourned for just under an hour.
When it reconvened, Ella was cleared of the allegation.