With the ever increasing use of social media the case of Teggart v TeleTech, which relates to offensive Facebook comments, gives some insight into possible actions that an employer may take.
Mr Teggart worked for TeleTech UK Ltd, which provides call-centre services for a number of clients. Mr Teggart’s “friends” on Facebook included some work colleagues. While on his computer at home, Mr Teggart posted a message on his Facebook page about A, a female colleague, which suggested that she had had, or had attempted to have, sexual relations with a number of colleagues. A number of people posted comments in response to this message.
A, who was known to Mr Teggart but was not a friend, was told about the comments by a work colleague. She spoke to Mr Teggart’s then girlfriend to ask that the comments be removed. In response to this request, Mr Teggart posted another comment on Facebook which was vulgar and offensive in nature and suggested that the comment would not be removed. Again, a number of individuals made comments.
Mr Spence, who appears to have known both Mr Teggart and A but was not an employee at TeleTech, emailed the company the comments and suggested that they were “in breach of company policy”. Mr Riddiough, the service delivery manager, spoke to A who said that she was upset, physically distressed and tearful.
At an investigatory meeting, Mr Teggart, who accepted he was the author of the comments on Facebook, was suspended. Mr Teggart was invited to a disciplinary hearing accusing him of gross misconduct on the basis that:
- he had “made inappropriate comments on Facebook on multiple occasions in relation to fellow employee [A] which the company may consider to constitute bullying and harassment”; and
- his “use of TeleTech’s name in association with these comments within a social media forum may bring the company into disrepute”.
On receiving the disciplinary letter, Mr Teggart commented on Facebook that, while he was not going to apologise to A, his intention was not to upset her but simply to have a bit of fun and that she (A) “seems as if she may have taken it a bit too seriously.”
At the disciplinary hearing, Mr Teggart’s arguments in his defence included that:
- he had not intended to offend A;
- he was entitled to make any comments that he wanted on his personal Facebook profile;
- the reference to “TeleTech” was an abbreviation for telecommunications or technical and not a reference to the company;
- he considered the matter to be “fun or a joke”; and
- he was under the influence of alcohol when he posted the Facebook comments.
The company dismissed Mr Teggart for gross misconduct on the basis that “he [had] made multiple postings on a social media site regarding a fellow employee, one of which made reference to TeleTech”.
The industrial tribunal considered that whilst the tribunal found the company’s investigation and disciplinary process to be flawed, in relation to the harassment of A the tribunal found that the disciplinary panel’s conclusion that Mr Teggart had harassed A was reasonable. Mr Teggart’s unwanted Facebook comments clearly violated A’s dignity and were capable of creating a degrading and humiliating environment. The tribunal also found that harassment can be caused through comments made to others and not to the victim of the harassment.
The industrial tribunal concluded that the company had not violated Mr Teggart’s human rights as he abandoned any right to have his comments treated as private and he could not seek to rely on his rights to respect for his private life.