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Apple was OK to fire man for private Facebook comments

'Image is so central to Apple's success', says tribunal

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Apple was right to fire an employee of one of its UK stores for saying rude things about the company on his Facebook wall, an employment tribunal in Bury St Edmunds ruled.*

The tribunal judge upheld Apple's dismissal of the man for gross misconduct in a case which sets another precedent for social network users who like to bitch about work online.

The Apple Store worker had made derogatory comments about Apple's brand and products on his Facebook wall. Although his posts were not public, one of his unfriendlier "friends" – also a colleague in the store – printed the comments out and showed them to their boss, who fired the man for misconduct.

According to a legal commentary by Jamie Hamnett of Addleshaw Goddard LLP on the blog PeopleManagement.co.uk, the judge supported Apple's decision for two reasons in particular.

First because "Apple had in place a clear social media policy and stressed in their induction process that commentary on Apple products, or critical remarks about the brand were strictly prohibited".

And second because such comments would be particularly damaging for Apple as "image is so central to its success".

A striking feature of the case was that although the man's Facebook comments were not public - privacy settings had been applied - the judge decided because that the comments could be easily copied and pasted by his friends they did not attract any privacy protection.

Hamnett writes:

Despite having "private" Facebook settings, the tribunal decided that there was nothing to prevent friends from copying and passing on Crisp’s* comments, so he was unable to rely on the right to privacy contained in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (covered in the UK by the Human Rights Act 1998). He retained his right to freedom of expression under Article 10, but Apple successfully argued that it was justified and proportionate to limit this right in order to protect its commercial reputation against potentially damaging posts.

El Reg contacted the employment tribunal, which confirmed that it had thrown out Crisp's appeal against his dismissal for gross misconduct at the Bury St Edmunds tribunal on 5 August.

You've been warned. ®

*Apple Retail v Crisp case reference: ET/1500258/2011

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