A classic car company in Darlington, north England, has been forced to pay a settlement of almost £30,000 to a former employee who was terminated over a Facebook post. The court ruled that the employee was dismissed unfairly.
Michael Austin, who worked as a paint sprayer, won an employment tribunal case against A1M Retro Classics, his former employer. His termination followed a Facebook post where he complained about his boss, the manager of the company, Matthew Robinson.
“I don’t think I’m a bad person but I don’t think I have ever felt so low in my life after my boss’s comments today,” Austin wrote on Facebook after a quarrel with Robinson. People commented on the post, some suggesting to Austin to punch his boss in the face. Some comments were said to be “homophobic insults” towards Robinson.
Austin was fired in February after five years at the company. Robinson terminated him for violating the social media policy, adding that the online comments had harmed the business.
But the judge argued that Austin did not violate the social media policy since he could not control other users’ comments on Facebook.
Robinson also told the court that they had argued on other occasions before the February incident. He claimed that Austin had a pattern of bullying behavior but did not provide evidence of the alleged misconduct.
In the ruling, awarding Austin £28,560, the judge said:
“This was an employee with a clear employment record, and this was a first case of misconduct.
“If I had accepted the managing director’s evidence that there had been a string of unchallenged behavior by the claimant I would have nonetheless found, as I do on the facts I have found, that a reasonable employer would have sought to moderate the unacceptable behavior of the employer by issuing a warning/instruction in circumstances where, as I have found, of any reason why the employee would not have moderated his behavior.”
Robinson was unsurprisingly not impressed with the ruling and noted that his company cannot afford the settlement. “I was absolutely shocked by the outcome. I find it very unfair. We have a policy and I thought I had done everything right,” Robinson said. “I’m devastated by it. We are a small business and we can’t afford it.”