A Metropolitan police officer has resigned from his employment after he posted a number of offensive messages on Twitter following the death of Baroness Thatcher.

Sergeant Jeremy Scott, who worked in a back-office role for the Met Police, reacted to the death of Margaret Thatcher last week by posting a number of messages on Twitter, including one which is understood to have read that he hoped her death was “painful and degrading”.

Sgt Scott, who posted under the Twitter handle @thinbluespeck, also posted that Baroness Thatcher’s death had been “87 years too late” and that the world was a “better place” because of her death. He went on to celebrate the “death parties” that were occurring in Brixton and Glasgow, using the aforementioned Twitter handle. The handle has since been deleted from Twitter.

It was confirmed last week by the Met Police that Sgt Scott had immediately tendered his resignation after the Tweets were made public. It was also reported that he referred the matter to the Directorate of Professional Standards, which is responsible for investigating complaints of misconduct against police officers.

This incident with the Metropolitan Police comes in the wake of a Freedom of Information request which revealed that forced Scotland Yard to reveal that three police officers have been sacked from the Force for misusing social media in the last three years. Further, 75 Metropolitan Police officers have had complaints filed against them because of misuse of Facebook and Twitter since 2009, with 38 of the complaints being upheld.

The above issues highlight the problems that employers face with social media in the workplace. Ill-advised Tweets or Facebook postings can cause friction between co-workers (as per a recent High Court decision and several recent Employment Tribunal decisions), damage an employer’s reputation and/or damage the relationship of trust and confidence between the employer and the employee. It’s therefore important that employers have a social media policy in place that explains the requirements imposed on employees regarding social media and the consequences of a failure to use social media in a responsible fashion. If the employer fails to do this and subsequently dismisses an employee for failing to use social media responsibly then this may open the employer up to a claim for unfair dismissal in the Employment Tribunal.

Chris Hadrill, employment solicitor at Redmans, commented that “the case of Sgt Scott shows that employers have to be vigilant about the use of social media both inside and outside of a work context. Offensive or generally ill-advised postings on social media sites can cause damage to an employer’s reputation and may also seriously damage existing or potential commercial relationships. It is therefore very important that employees are appraised of the need to use social media responsibly and the consequences of a failure to act responsibly”.

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The Direct 2 Lawyers Employment Team post daily on interesting employment law cases, Employment Tribunal judgments and Employment Appeal Tribunal judgments. All of the Employment Team posts are written by qualified specialist employment lawyers

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