The British government’s Employment Tribunal has upheld Apple’s firing of a retail store employee who posted negative comments about the stores and the company on Facebook, saying the company had a formal and clear policy that prohibited negative comments posted to social media Web sites. After being fired for “gross misconduct,” the employee Samuel Crisp appealed to the UK labor agency, noting that the posts had been tagged as private. As analyzed on the People Management Web site by attorney Jamie Hamnett of the law firm Addleshaw Goddard LLP, a key element of the tribunal’s decision was that Apple, “made it absolutely plain throughout the induction process that commentary on Apple products, or critical remarks about the brand, were strictly prohibited.” Hammett noted that the tribunal took into account that such comments “would be particularly damaging for Apple as image is so central to its success.” Therefore, “Apple successfully argued that it was justified and proportionate to limit this right (of posting) in order to protect its commercial reputation against potentially damaging posts.”
According to the tribunal’s decision, Crisp posted on his Facebook page, “once again fuck you very much work,” and, “MobileMe fucked up my timezone of rthe third in a week and woke me up at 3am? JOY!!” The posts were made to private pages, but the tribunal pointed out, even private posts on Facebook can be copied and distributed. In this case, a co-worker was one of Crisp’s Facebook friends, and and shared the posts with the Apple store manager, who immediately suspended him. Crisp removed the offending posts, and Apple then scheduled an investigatory meeting last December. He provided little explanation for the posts, the tribunal judgement notes, and so a disciplinary hearing was schedule for the next week.
“The Claimant was not forthcoming with answers” at the hearing, the tribunal said in its judgement. He responded to questions with either “No” or “No comment.” He did present a prepared statement that emphasized that the Facebook posts were private. However, senior manager Jason Vermeulen was not persuaded, and formally informed Crisp the same day of the hearing for “bringing the company into disrepute,” which amounts to gross misconduct.
Crisp appealed the decision within Apple, and a hearing was held January 7, 2011 with the store leader from the White City Apple store. Crisp again provided few answers to questions, the tribunal states, and the store leader upheld the termination decision.
The tribunal considered that Crisp completed just 2½ days of the 10-day core employee training program. But Apple showed the tribunal that during that training, they presented the appropriate sections of training that noted Apple employees “should not display commentary about Apple products, services or initiatives on personal websites, and violation of this policy could result in disciplinary action, up to and including termination.”
The tribunal also considered if dismissal was reasonable for the misconduct that Crisp admitted. Considering all the applicable UK law, the tribunal found the terminal was reasonable.
Hammett said the tribunal’s decision serves as a warning for employees who use social networks. “Once posted, it will be difficult to show the necessary degree of control over Facebook comments as—by the very nature of the Internet—these may be copied and passed on with ease.” The case should also remind employers that they should have, “a comprehensive social media policy that prohibits derogatory remarks about the business and its products on social networks, and states clearly that a breach of the policy could result in disciplinary action, up to and including summary dismissal.”E-mail this story