Irish

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Spending hours on Facebook at work 'not cause for dismissal'

Court awards sacked worker €7,000

Sarah McCabe

Published 15/06/2014 | 02:30

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Spending hours on Facebook at work is not a cause for dismissal.
Spending hours on Facebook at work is not a cause for dismissal.

EMPLOYEES can spend hours of work time browsing social media without serious penalty, a landmark judgement has determined, unless their boss has a social media policy in place.

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The decision, by the Employment Appeals Tribunal, clarifies the muddy legal waters surrounding misuse of the internet at work – and sets a clear precedent that spending working hours dawdling on personal Twitter and Facebook accounts is not grounds for dismissal.

The recently published decision awarded €7,000 to an employee who was dismissed for looking at social media sites on her office computer during work hours.

The court determined her dismissal was unfair despite the fact that she had been warned about this behaviour several times by her employer on previous occasions.

This is the first Irish case to directly address whether social media use at work is, in and of itself, grounds for dismissal.

"While previous case law has involved secondary issues such as reputational damage to the employer and procedural errors in the carrying out of dismissals, this case is of particular interest as the dismissal itself and the tribunal's decision directly related to the employee's use of social media while at work," said Catherine O'Flynn, employment law expert at Dublin solicitors William Fry.

The employee in question worked as a marketing assistant for an electrical company.

The company's managing director told the tribunal that he and the office manager had verbally warned her on a number of occasions about her non-work related internet useage. In January 2012, he caught her on a social media site and fired her on the spot.

"He believed that the actions of the claimant amounted to a waste of the company's time and resources and her actions constituted gross misconduct," tribunal documents noted.

The tribunal ruled that this was unfair and that there were no valid grounds for dismissal.

It was influenced, it said, by the fact that the employee had not been supplied with either a contract of employment or an internet and social media policy during her employment.

In her evidence, she stated that had she been aware of the company's internet policy, she would have abided by it. It also noted the employee's claims that she had completed all work assigned to her and that her requests for more work were ignored.

She said that most of the time she spent on the internet was work related, and that any non-work related use was done openly and out of boredom. Her desk and computer were in full view to others in her office, she said, and she never believed that she was doing anything wrong.

"The Employment Appeals Tribunal in this case emphasised the importance of having a social media policy in place and communicating it to all employees.

"It is therefore vital for employers to have a detailed and specific social media policy in place and to ensure that employees read it and understand it.

"It is evident from these survey results that many employers are yet to put in place social media policies. Employers who do not have a social media policy in place are vulnerable to expensive litigation."

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