A recent news story highlights the potential problems that use of the internet at work can cause for both employers and employees. The story concerns a “married churchgoing mother” who was sacked after being wrongly accused of watching hardcore porn at work. She has subsequently been awarded £20,000 compensation at the Employment Tribunal after suing her former employer for unfair dismissal. So, how can employees best defend their position if they’re accused of misuse of work computers?
- Check if your employer has a social media policy and, if so, what the terms of that social media policy are
- Check what the terms of your employer’s disciplinary policy are and determine what can potentially constitute gross misconduct
- Determine whether the consequences of the misuse of workplace computers has been explained to you in any other manner
- Request to see the evidence that your employer has that shows your work computer has been misused
- Request to see the evidence that your employer has that shows that you specifically misused the computer (if your computer can be or is used by other members of staff)
- Make sure that the investigation into the allegations of misuse of computers at work is conducted by an impartial person and that the investigation is reasonable and thorough
- Determine whether other employees have been disciplined for similar incidents in the past and, if so, what the outcome of these incidents has been
If you have been accessing inappropriate websites at work or misusing your computer in any other way your employer has a duty to conduct a reasonable investigation into your matter and to make a decision which is within the reasonable range of responses in the circumstances. Your employer must therefore have explained to you the consequences of misuse of work computers (or made accessible to you what misuse of computers at work entails and what the consequences may be) and must obtain evidence that would reasonably suggest that you may have been misusing your computer at work. The employer should also consider any medical evidence advanced by the employee giving reasons for the accessing of inappropriate material on the internet. A failure to do this may render the dismissal unfair (The City of Edinburgh Council v Dickson UKEATS/0038/09).
If you have been fired for misuse of computers at work, whether this is through misuse of the internet or any other form of misuse, you may have a case for unfair dismissal in the Employment Tribunal if your employer fails to deal with your investigation, disciplinary and/or dismissal unfairly.