A job centre work coach who was sacked over a series of offensive tweets was unfairly dismissed.
That was the decision of the Employment Tribunal in a case involving the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and one of its employees, Mr Ayub Patel.
The department had strict policies on staff using social media. The guidelines said: “It is important that
we are all aware that posting any content that is considered inappropriate – whether in an official or personal capacity – may result in disciplinary action which could lead to dismissal.”
Mr Patel was found to have put out a series tweets including one about Tommy Robinson from the British National Party, a comment about Donald Trump and white male Christians using guns.
On 24 October 2017, he was informed that the department was investigating whether the tweets breached its policies.
During an investigation interview, he denied any of his comments were racist but accepted that some were offensive, derogatory of the current government and that he had shown allegiance to a political party.
In his defence, he said he’d been told during a training session that if there was nothing on your social media account to associate you with the DWP then it did not matter. He expressed extreme regret at his actions, asserting that he was mortified by being investigated for misconduct, and confirmed
that if he had realised that this was in breach of the standards then he would not have tweeted in the same way.
Following further investigations, Mr Patel was dismissed.
He brought a claim of unfair dismissal to the Employment Tribunal, which ruled in his favour because it considered the DWP’s investigatory procedure had been unfair.
Among other things, the dismissing officer had failed to identify the tweets she relied on in reaching her decision that he had breached the standards of behaviour. Mr Patel was therefore not given the opportunity to defend himself.
The officer had also accepted Mr Patel’s assertion that he was not guilty of making racist comments and that he genuinely believed that it was acceptable to post tweets so long as he did not identify the DWP.
In light of those findings of the officer, there was no satisfactory evidence before her that Mr Patel had committed an act of gross misconduct.
However, the tribunal found that Mr Patel had contributed to his dismissal and so compensation, to be decided at a separate hearing, should be reduced by 50%.
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