Insults on Facebook

Insulting employer on Facebook is an urgent reason for rescission of the employment contract without any termination payment.

We can no longer imagine a society without social media. Young or old, these days almost everyone communicates via social media. Unfortunately not all these messages are positive. Increasingly, employees are expressing their views (often negative) about their employers on social media sites, such as Hyves and Facebook. Does an employer have to just accept all its employees’ comments? Not according to the Sub-District Court in Arnhem, which recently heard a case in which an employee described his employer on Facebook as a “shit company”.

The facts were as follows. An employee of Blokker asked his employer for a salary advance. This was refused, following which the employer behaved in an agitated and threatening manner at work and made negative remarks on Facebook. The employer warned him about this. Two weeks later, the employee placed a further negative comment on Facebook:

“what a shit company sorry i ever went to work there and the rest that work there specially my team leader what a filthy loser you can tell the way he treats people like shit hes from nijmegen an used to be a rozzer the bastard someday im gonna be on top an trust me then theyll be crying bunch of losers”

At this point the employer had had enough. She suspended the employee the same day and applied to the Sub-District Court for rescission of the employment contract due to urgent reasons.

The employee put forward a freedom of speech defence, arguing that the Facebook message was in the private domain.

The Sub-District Court did not accept these defences and rescinded the employment contract due to urgent reasons with immediate effect and without the award of compensation for the following reasons. By placing the message on Facebook the employer had grievously insulted his supervisor and his employer. The right to freedom of speech is limited by the principles of care that the employee is required to observe with respect to his employer. There was no cause at all for the employee to make such negative comments. The fact that the employee removed the message shortly after receiving the letter suspending him could not assist him. The damage had already been done. The seemingly private nature of Facebook is deceptive, as is the term “friends”. In this case, one of the man’s colleagues, who apparently was one of his “friends”, informed the employer about the message. In this way other people were also informed about the warehouse assistant’s comments. The argument that Facebook formed part of the private domain of the employee was therefore rejected.

This judgment is a warning to employees: a negative post on the internet can turn out to be costly in the long term. For employers, on the other hand, the judgment offers a basis for taking action against employees who make unacceptable comments on social media and even terminating their employment contracts.