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Sacked for liking a picture - two more ways social media can get you fired

James Watkins - Law on the Web

  1. 30 November 2015
  2. Employment
  3. 0 comments
Wolf and the moon

This month has seen a brace of workers dismissed for indiscretions online or through social media, raising further questions about how our lives at work are affected by our actions elsewhere.

One was Troy Garrod. Mr Garrod had worked at a warehouse for Bertram Books for four-and-a-half years, but a fateful “Like” brought his time with the company to an abrupt end.

Mr Garrod had liked an image on Facebook of a jumper adorned with the image of five wolves. The image was posted with a mocking caption, apparently inspired by a Facebook group known as “The Wolf Fleece Appreciation Society”, dedicated to demeaning those who make lupine-based sartorial choices.

The seemingly innocuous act of liking the picture was deemed by Mr Garrod’s employer to be an act of bullying towards the owner of the jumper, even though the owner was not included in the picture.

Mr Garrod was informed of his termination via text message. He believes that he was unfairly dismissed, saying that his liking of the photo was just “banter”.

However, he is apparently unable to bring a claim against his employer, as he recently switched to working for a recruitment agency. As an agency worker, he had significantly fewer rights than he would have had as a regular employee approaching five years of service.

“I didn't know what the photo meant but everyone else who worked there [liked] it so I just joined in,” Mr Garrod said. “I felt really hurt and angry and all my former colleagues think what happened is ridiculous.

“It just seems so unfair that clicking the ‘Like’ button has caused me so much trouble.”

The woman who uploaded the photo also works for the company – she is believed to have been suspended.

This case illustrates how seemingly innocuous actions on social media can be interpreted as bullying – something as simple as liking a picture or unfriending a co-worker could be seen as harassment.

Jayne Nevins, a solicitor at DAS Law, has noted that social media is like “the Wild West of employment disputes”, and that all workers should be on their toes when interacting with colleagues on Facebook et al.

“With more and more of us using social media regularly, it’s increasingly being used as evidence in disputes – and the rules are having to be developed pretty much on a case-by-case basis,” she said.

Don't feel too bad for Mr Garrod, however – thanks to his rather unusual firing, he’s getting his own TV show in the US.

Top city lawyer sacked for expressing contempt for Liverpudlians

Meanwhile, a Chelsea football fan and award-winning lawyer found himself out of a job after letting his emotions get the better of him following a particularly demoralising defeat.

Clive O’Connell was leaving Stamford Bridge, Chelsea home ground, following a 3-1 loss to Liverpool. When asked for his thoughts by an interviewer for YouTube channel Neeks Sports, Mr O’Connell promptly lost his rag, describing Liverpool fans who had mocked his team as “scum Scouse idiots” and “nasty horrible people”.

Unfortunately for Mr O’Connell, the video went viral, and some viewers were able to discern his real-world identity, with others alleging that he was behind tweets and a (now deleted) blog which expressed a number of unpleasant sentiments about Liverpool and the people of Liverpool.

Mr O’Connell later apologised for his post-match comments, telling the Evening Standard that his emotions had got the better of him.

“I clearly regret this and any offence that I may have caused by my hot headed and regrettable reaction, which was inappropriate whether or not caught on camera,” he said.

This mea culpa was not enough to save his job, however. Rick Cohen, managing partner at Goldberg Segalla, said in a statement on YouTube that Mr O’Connell’s tirade was “entirely inconsistent with [their] ethos”.

He added: “His conduct doesn't rise to the standard to which we hold ourselves and for these reasons we have terminated our partnership with Mr O'Connell, effective immediately.

“We are extremely proud of the respectful and giving culture that we worked hard to build and we're committed to maintaining it for ourselves, for our clients, and for the communities of which we are a part of.”

Mr O’Connell’s plight highlights the difficulty of balancing one’s right to a private life with the understanding that their actions may reflect negatively on their employer’s reputation.

Many people (including Liverpool fans) felt that it was heavy-handed for a man to lose his job for insults directed at a group of rival fans – most football fans can probably sympathise with someone who overreacts after seeing their favourite team humbled.

However, as noted by John Hyde in this Guardian article, incidents like this present a real problem for employers, as they will reflect on the employer, whether the employee was representing the company or not.

“What if the best young law graduate of 2016 happens to come from Liverpool? Will they be less likely to join a firm that – while not endorsing them – seems not to regard these views as a serious issue?” he writes. “Will clients from across the globe baulk at instructing people who seem unable to control their emotions?”

Employees: keeping out of hot water

Sarah Garner from DAS Law has the following advice for employees:

“Employees need to be vigilant when making such statements that could negatively impact on the image or reputation of an organisation, especially in the eyes of the general public who in essence could be or potentially be affiliated with that organisation. This would be in the capacity of customers or suppliers etc.

“An employee’s actions, whether within workplace or outside, could see them disciplined or even dismissed if their conduct could bring their employer’s reputation into serious disrepute.

“This is evidenced in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) case of Pay v The United Kingdom (2003), where Mr Pay was fairly dismissed for bringing the probation service into disrepute in that his activities would cause damage to the reputation of the service.”

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