A recent case in the Employment Tribunal highlights the importance of respecting the boundaries of social media and the workplace.

In the case of Game Retail Ltd v Laws [UKEAT/0188/14/DA], Mr Laws worked for Game Retail as a risk and loss prevention investigator. He started to use his personal Twitter account as part of his job role to detect any untoward activity. This resulted in a number of Game Retail stores following his tweets in return. Offended by some of Mr Laws’ tweets, which were described as being threatening and obscene towards the disabled and the police (amongst others), a store manager reported his posts to the company who, following investigation, dismissed him for gross misconduct.

Mr Laws brought an unfair dismissal claim in the Employment Tribunal. The issue for the Tribunal was whether or not the decision to dismiss Mr Laws fell within the range of reasonable responses available to Game Retail. It held that the offensive material was communicated for private use only, not in work time, that there were no derogatory tweets about Game Retail, and that there was no link on his Twitter to tie him to the company. The Employment Tribunal decided that the dismissal did not fall within the range of reasonable responses and thus was unfair.

This decision was appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal who took a different view. They considered that the Employment Tribunal had overlooked the fact that Twitter, unlike Facebook, was not restricted to social acquaintances, that Mr Laws had not used any of the privacy or restriction settings and his posts were available to be seen by the store managers of the 65 stores he had allowed to follow him in return.

This is a landmark case for social media usage in the workplace which has indicated some clear guidance for employers when considering whether an employee’s conduct is sufficient to justify their dismissal. In particular, employers should consider:

  • the nature and content of the posts and how offensive they are;
  • whether the posts are made on a purely personal account;
  • the usage made of privacy restrictions;
  • the links between the employer and the employee visable on the account;
  • when the posts are made (i.e. in or out of working time);
  • the clarify of the disciplinary procedures with respect to social media usage.

This case also highlights the importance of the Employment Tribunal having an in depth knowledge as to how the social media service in question operates.