Workplace abuse on Facebook triggered legal action
An employee’s racially insulting social media post forced Heathrow airport managers to defend themselves in employment tribunals.
London Heathrow Airport’s employment lawyers argued against charges of harassment, victimisation and discrimination at employment and appeal tribunals.
The trouble started in November 2016 after airport employee, Deborah Stevens posted a golliwog on a private Facebook post seen by friends and workmates.
The image was accompanied by the message: ‘Let’s see how far he can travel before Facebook takes him off.’ A colleague of Ms Stevens showed the image to security guard, Mr. Forbes.
Mr Forbes was shocked and appalled by a co-worker posting a racially offensive image. He complained to managers and that led to an apology and disciplinary action taken against Ms Stevens.
But another row followed when his managers moved him when he complained about being required to work alongside Ms Stevens. He lodged a legal case against Heathrow Airport at the Employment Tribunal.
Mr. Forbes’ employment lawyers argued that section 109 of the Equality Act 2010 meant that an employer was ‘vicariously liable’ for the actions of an employee done ‘in the course of employment’.
The case eventually went to the Employment Appeal Tribunal and in February 2019 the court agreed that the post was offensive. It also supported an original decision by the lower tribunal that London Heathrow could not be held responsible for the post.
The courts heard that the co-worker did not create the post on the employer’s property or during working hours.
Other issues the court took into account was that the image made no reference to London Heathrow and that Heathrow had taken steps to address the issue.
A lesson from the case is that employers need a social media policy and dignity at work policies a court would respect.
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