Why is having an internet use/social media policy so important? On 17th December 2013, the Employment Appeals Tribunal in Mullingar heard a claim that an employee had been unfairly dismissed by her employer, a wholesale electrical company that employed approximately 36 employees.
The individual was employed as a Marketing Assistant from 1 November 2010. With the permission of the employer, the employee worked a three day week for the first year as she was completing a graphic design course simultaneously. The employer was happy for the employee to begin working a 5 day week on 1st November 2011.
The Managing Director claimed that both he and the Office Manager had warned the claimant on a number of occasions about her improper internet use, which was non-work related internet use. According to the Managing Director, these alleged warnings were of a verbal nature. The Managing Director gave evidence to the Tribunal that, on 16 January 2012, he observed the claimant on a social media site and called her to his office before proceeding to dismiss her from her employment with the Company.
The Managing Director believed that the actions of the claimant amounted to a waste of the Company’s time and resources and her actions constituted gross misconduct.
It became apparent that the Company did not have a formal internet use/social media policy in place while the claimant was employed. It also came to light that the employee did not receive a contract of employment nor did she receive a copy of the Company’s disciplinary procedures.
The claimant stated that she completed all tasks that were assigned to her. She was not using the internet in a secretive way (she gave evidence that her computer monitor was in full view of the office) and she did not believe that she was doing anything wrong when she was online.
The claimant testified that she was not given a job description detailing the tasks that were assigned to her. The former employee explained that, if she was aware of the company’s policy around internet use/social media then she would have abided by it.
The claimant stated that she regularly asked for more assignments to complete during her work hours but was not provided with enough to occupy all of her working time. The employee explained that she was told in December to “wind down” for the Christmas period when she looked for more work from the Managing Director’s son. The claimant admitted to spending time browsing the internet when she had finished with her work assignments but clarified that she spent the majority of her time on the internet carrying out work related activities.
The claimant gave evidence that she never received any warnings prior to her dismissal.
The Employment Appeals Tribunal considered all of the evidence that was submitted by the claimant and the respondent and concluded that the dismissal of the employee was unfair as, according to the Tribunal, there appears not to have been any valid grounds for the termination.
In addition to this the Tribunal found that the dismissal was lacking any procedural fairness because no investigation or disciplinary process took place.
The Tribunal also made note of the fact that the claimant was never provided with any of the following documents throughout the course of her employment:
- A contract of employment,
- An internet use/social media policy
- A copy of the Company’s disciplinary procedures
The claimant received pay for one week’s notice.
The Tribunal found that there was no gross misconduct on the part of the claimant and, consequently, the Tribunal found that the employee was Unfairly Dismissed and awarded her €7,000.00 in compensation under the Unfair Dismissals Acts 1977 to 2007.