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The EAT case of Game Retail Ltd v Laws is one of the first EAT judgments focussing on a claim of unfair dismissal arising out of an employee’s inappropriate use of Twitter.
Mr Laws was the Risk and Loss Prevention Investigator for Game Retail Ltd and was responsible for 100 stores in the North of England. He set up a personal profile on Twitter where he followed the individual stores for which he was responsible, ironically, to monitor the behaviour of employees. They in turn, followed him.
Mr Laws made a number of tweets from this account which were described as “intimidating, racist and anti-disability” by his manager. Many of his tweets contained expletives. The manager later said in her witness statement to the tribunal that the tweets were offensive “to other groups of people including … the A & E Department, Newcastle [football] supporters [and] the police”. He was dismissed for gross misconduct after a disciplinary process.
The question for the EAT was this; was it a reasonable response for an employer to dismiss an employee where they had posted improper posts on social networking sites which were private accounts not obviously linked to the employee? The EAT said yes, on the basis that he was affiliated to the company and this was obvious from the fact that colleagues followed him and identified him as an employee of Game.
However, it appears that it might not always be safe to dismiss, particularly where an employee does not follow, is not followed by, or is not friends with, colleagues or clients and where there is no obvious connection between the individual and the workplace or employer. Each case needs to be assessed on its facts.
It should be noted that Mr Laws did not post his tweets during working time but if he had, the EAT said, that this would be construed as an aggravating factor.
The EAT confirmed that a well written policy on the use of social media would go a long way to ensure that employers would be in a strong position to dismiss in these sorts of cases.