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Apple fires UK employee over Facebook post: but could they have done so in US?

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By Noel Young, Correspondent

November 2, 2011 | 3 min read

The decision by a UK employment tribunal to uphold the the sacking of an Apple store employee, who posted negative comments about the stores on Facebook, is making waves in America.

The Apple image

A supposed ‘friend’ of the British store employee named Crisp showed the post to the store manager, who then fired Crisp for “gross misconduct”.

ZDNet asked: "But was Apple in the right, or should it have issued a stern warning? It’s ‘this old chestnut’ once again."

"Apple has a series of serious brands to maintain, and clearly employees put their hearts and souls into maintaining that image. The brand, arguably, is what makes Apple what it is — a global giant for which tens, if not hundreds of millions around the world have utter adoration for," said the US website.

"But the company has strict social media rules to protect its commercial reputation, and forbids the posting of any negative comments on any social media site or social network."

According to the initial report, Apple “made it absolutely plain throughout the induction process that commentary on Apple products, or critical remarks about the brand, were strictly prohibited”.

The UK employment tribunal upheld the firing because it ruled that posting even a seemingly private comment “does not give privacy protection”, 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.”

ZDNet then made the point: If this is the case, then any communication, whether verbal, written or electronically published, could be seen as ‘not private’, breaking the rules wide open for potential abuse by employers.

ZDNet said many had been caught out by social media, particularly when it came down to commenting on their jobs or colleagues. This summer, the U.S. National Labor Relations Board had a series of cases where employees were fired over Facebook. But the rules between the U.S. and the UK are different, says ZDnet.

"Had this case presented itself in ‘the land of the free’, perhaps the outcome would have been different. A settlement earlier this year led to a ruling whereby employees could not be disciplined by their employers over the content they post on Facebook."

For younger people, however, the divide between a ‘personal Facebook’ and a ‘work Facebook’ is yet to be differentiated, said ZDNet.

"Ultimately, company policies need to be put in place to ensure that all employees are not only aware of social media risks, but also the brands they represent inside and outside of the workplace."

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