Canal worker succeeds with Employment Tribunal unfair dismissal claim

MoJA former canal worker who was sacked after he claimed that he had been drinking on standby for flood alert has won his Employment Tribunal claim against his former employer.

Mr David Smith, 34, won his claim for unfair dismissal at the Employment Tribunal after he was sacked in June 2013 for posting comments on Facebook that suggested he had been drinking alcohol whilst on shift at Scottish Canals on a ‘flood alert’.

Mr Smith, who commenced employment with Scottish Canals in 2013, was sacked from his job in June 2013 after his bosses discovered that he had claimed on social media site ‘Facebook’ in 2011 that he had allegedly been drinking whilst on shift and that he had described his supervisors to friends as “wankers” and “pricks”. After being dismissed Mr Smith made an Employment Tribunal claim for unfair dismissal.

The claim came to the Employment Tribunal earlier this year. The Employment Tribunal heard evidence that Mr Smith had posted what he believed were private comments on Facebook in 2011, including the following statements:

  • That he had stated that he was on “standby” for “flood alert”, before commenting: “Drinking vodka and apple juice, first time I’ve tried it, not too shabby”
  • That he had posted: “Why are gaffers such pricks? Is there a book teaching them to be total wankers? Need a new job.”

The Tribunal also heard that Mr Smith was summarily dismissed by Scottish Canals for gross misconduct after his bosses at Scottish Canals discovered the posts in 2013.

Mr Smith told the Glasgow Employment Tribunal that he believed that he had set his settings on Facebook as “private” and that his page wasn’t therefore accessible to the public. He gave evidence that he would not have posted the comments if he had known they would be in the public domain and that they were untrue and were simply “banter” with his friends.

Employment Judge Wiseman, chairing the Employment Tribunal, ruled in Mr Smith’s favour in his claim for unfair dismissal, stating that Scottish Canals had failed to consider”the nature of Facebook”, namely that “it is a social media site used for chat and frequently involves people making claims which are either exaggerated or simply not in fact true”. Employment Judge Wiseman also commented that the person who had dismissed Mr Smith had failed to take into account that the comments had been made two years previously and that the events in question had not come to pass.

A remedy hearing will be heard at a later date to determine what compensation Mr Smith will be awarded.

Chris Hadrill, an employment solicitor at Redmans Solicitors, commented on the case: “Employers must ensure that they make fair decisions to dismiss and that they carry out a fair procedure in dismissing employees – a failure to undertake these actions may mean that the employer subsequently has to pay potentially large sums of compensation if an Employment Tribunal finds a former employee was unfairly dismissed.

Scottish Canals commented that they were considering appealing the case.