Love it or loathe it, Facebook is the modern way to keep in touch these days. However, it can have a major downside for employers when staff post negative comments about the work they do and the people it brings them into contact with.

In two recent cases, both employers took the decision to dismiss. However, the tribunal ruled in favour of one and against the other.

The first case involved a company where one of its managers was verbally abused by two customers. Instead of notifying her bosses, she used Facebook to vent her frustrations and made some negative comments about the individuals. She thought that her posts could only be seen by her contacts, but unfortunately, they were public and were seen by one of the customer’s daughters. The company had a robust company email and internet policy, backed up by a strong disciplinary procedure. After a detailed investigation, the manager was dismissed. The tribunal held her dismissal to be fair, because she knew the company’s views on Facebook and it had conducted a thorough investigation.

The second case involved an employer, one of whose employees, who worked as a team leader in customer service for a client company, posted the following remark: "I think I work in a nursery and I do not mean working with plants." Two of her friends (also colleagues), brought it to her line manager’s attention. Her employer said that the comment had the potential to harm a key commercial relationship with that client. However, before it dismissed her, it never made enquiries with the other company as to its specific views on the matter. The tribunal ruled that the employee’s dismissal was unfair, because the company didn’t have a clear policy on email and internet use and had not carried out a fair investigation before reaching its decision to dismiss. This case also suggests that an employer cannot simply rely on a contention that its reputation or relationship with a third party may be damaged; the employer will need to provide some concrete evidence of the damage caused.

A potential disciplinary offence that has occurred online should be dealt with like any other type of alleged misconduct. You must have a clear email and internet policy, carry out a thorough investigation and follow the ACAS Code of Practice during the disciplinary process.

l NAMB members can get a sample ’email and internet policy’ by calling 01920 468061.