Dismissal for comments made on Facebook

“But one cannot be happy in a family business, especially when the kids join the company after you have been there for six years and they try everything in their power to make you look stupid.”

“Now we have the son working there as well who has no idea but is pretending he has a clue!”

“Had a day from hell! “

“My boss was a total meanie 😦 no idea how to treat people let alone management.“

“From so called ‘professionalism’ 2 dumb brats runnin a mickey mouse business.”

Do any of the above Facebook posts sound familiar? If you are an employee, hopefully not – or it is worth having (at the least) a very careful check on your privacy settings.

Although the employee who posted the comments above did not name her company or the persons she was referring to, and claimed that her Facebook page was private, her employer was able to view and print content from her page and lawfully dismissed her as a result.

When rejecting the employee’s challenge to her dismissal for posting the comments, the CCMA arbitrator found that by leaving her Facebook page public, the employee had waived any protections her posts might otherwise have enjoyed as private communications. It was highly likely that some people viewing the posts knew to whom the employee was referring (especially as her Facebook friends included colleagues and ex-colleagues), and there was a real potential that the comments would harm the company’s and individuals’ reputations.

The employee was guilty, at the very least, of gross insolence, if not insubordination, and dismissal was justified.

Even with privacy settings in place, disrespectful posts about an employer could find their way to the employer’s notice (especially if your Facebook friends include colleagues or friends of colleagues) and could result in disciplinary action. It does not matter that the posts are made outside of working hours and from a home computer.

The bottom line? The arbitrator in one case pointed out that “if employees wish their opinions to remain private, they should refrain from posting them on the internet”. Or, in the colourful turn of phrase of American technology journalist Erin Bury: “Don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t want plastered on a billboard with your face on it”. This advice applies equally to Facebook, Twitter, as well as any other online forum.