We issue a polite word of warning to employers today….

Ensure that when you are considering disciplinary action that it is proportionate to the misconduct that you believe occurred. 

A Housing Trust demoted a manager for expressing his views about gay marriage on facebook stating that it breached their social media policy. He made the comments which expressed his personal opinion and were not rude to anyone, in his own time on his facebook page which was not visible to anyone other than his friends.

The employee has won a Breach of Contract claim against the Housing Trust, with the High Court judge Mr Justice Briggs stating “Mr Smith was taken to task for doing nothing wrong, suspended and subjected to a disciplinary procedure which wrongly found him guilty of gross misconduct, and then demoted to a non-managerial post with an eventual 40% reduction in salary.  The breach of contract which the Trust thereby committed was serious and repudiatory.”

Interestingly their actions in handling the matter have been labelled excessive by a prominent gay and lesbian rights campaigner.

In this case it appears that the Trust were quick to take action without considering if there really was a case of misconduct at all let alone gross misconduct to warrant a demotion & pay decrease.

So employers please remember that despite having a social media policy, or any other policy about any area of your business for that matter, disciplinary action may not always be the way to resolve matters.  An informal conversation, a request not to do the same thing again, an action plan to improve performance, a requirement to read a policy, learn a process, have some training or coaching may be the most effective way to get a positive outcome.

And if disciplinary action is warranted then ensure that any sanctions are appropriate.

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