Apple 'fires employee' for critical Facebook posting: Were they right to?

Apple 'fires employee' for critical Facebook posting: Were they right to?

Summary: Apple reportedly fired a retail store employee after they posted negative comments about the company on Facebook. Was Apple right to do so?

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A UK employment tribunal reportedly upheld the sacking firing of an Apple retail store employee, who posted negative comments about the stores on the social network Facebook.

A supposed 'friend' showed the post to the store manager, who subsequently let the hapless employee go. Despite posting the negative comment as 'private', the employee appealed to an employment tribunal after being sacked for "gross misconduct".

But was Apple in the right, or should it have issued a stern warning? It's 'this old chestnut' once again.

(Source: Flickr, CC)

The Cupertino-based company has a series of serious brands to maintain, and clearly employees put their hearts and souls into maintaining that image. The brand, arguably, is what makes Apple what it is -- a global giant for which tens, if not hundreds of millions around the world have utter adoration for.

But the company has strict social media rules to protect its commercial reputation, and forbids the posting of any negative comments on any social media site or social network.

According to the initial report, Apple "made it absolutely plain throughout the induction process that commentary on Apple products, or critical remarks about the brand, were strictly prohibited".

The UK employment tribunal, according to CNET, upheld the firing because it ruled that posting even a seemingly private comment "does not give privacy protection", therefore, "Apple successfully argued that it was justified and proportionate to limit this right (of posting) in order to protect its commercial reputation against potentially damaging posts."

If this is the case, then any communication, whether verbal, written or electronically published, could be seen as 'not private', breaking the rules wide open for potential abuse by employers.

Companies can often be left in difficult territory when social media rules are not defined. A recent Cisco study suggests that amongst the Generation Y, two-thirds of college students will ask about social media policies during a job interview, with over half not accepting a job that bans social media in the workplace.

Social media is a tricky one to control. Anybody could copy and paste, and then tag -- or not, if one were to be clandestine about it -- and repost a comment; something which in itself leads to the spread of viral activity.

Many have been caught out by social media, particularly when it comes down to commenting on their jobs or colleagues. It was only during the summer where the U.S. National Labor Relations Board had to contend with a series of cases where employees were fired over Facebook.

But the rules between the U.S. and the UK are different. Had this case presented itself in 'the land of the free', perhaps the outcome would have been different. A settlement earlier this year led to a ruling whereby employees could not be disciplined by their employers over the content they post on Facebook.

For younger people, however, the divide between a 'personal Facebook' and a 'work Facebook' is yet to be differentiated. Ultimately, company policies need to be put in place to ensure that all employees are not only aware of social media risks, but also the brands they represent inside and outside of the workplace.

Related:

Topics: Social Enterprise, Apple

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  • UK employment tribunal already answered to your question, and made ...

    ... reasoning for that very clear. There is no mud to raise, not wishy-washy situation. There are all kinds of speech limitation that implied by employers -- customer's privacy, commercial secrets, and, yes, defamation. It is plain as that, and every employee signed voluntary to respect these rules.

    And if you break your signed promise, you have to pay for that, since it is dishonourable act.
    DDERSSS
    • RE: Apple 'fires employee' for critical Facebook posting: Were they right to?

      @DeRSSS It's not very clear, given that this was a private communication, and the ruling suggests that there's really no such thing.
      jgm@...
      • Since that post was available to other employees, there was nothing ...

        @jgm@... ... 'private' about it, no matter how it was labeled.

        Spreading defamation among co-workers is prohibited. So the situation is very clear.
        DDERSSS
      • RE: Apple 'fires employee' for critical Facebook posting: Were they right to?

        @DeRSSS.

        I have no idea what exactly was said in this specific case, but you raise a concerning issue. "Spreading defamation among co-workers is prohibited" ... so you could get fired for gross misconduct if one of your colleagues reports you complaining about the company in the staff room?

        That is the implication of what you are saying and, in my experience, there are times when that is the main topic of conversation in the staff room.
        david@...
      • RE: Apple 'fires employee' for critical Facebook posting: Were they right to?

        david@... the "private" category does not obviously only includes Apple employees, so it is not really comparable to whatever people discuss within the company.
        DDERSSS
      • dave: You can ignore anything DeRSSS writes

        "Spreading defamation among co-workers is prohibited."

        First off, this case had nothing at all to do with defamation of anything. DeRSSS is simply trying to make Apple sound like the poor victim of a cruel libelous campaign. No such campaign existed. Apple is not a victim here.

        No one can talk in generalities about what you can and cannot be fired for because with few exceptions, it is up to the individual company to set the policy for what you can and cannot be fired for. So for DeRSSS to authoritatively state anything about the ramifications of spreading defamation among co-workers is nothing more than him showing his extreme ignorance.

        This was actually a very simple case with a very simple outcome. Apple believed the employee in question violated an agreement that Apple's legal team had created and that Apple made him sign as a condition of employment. Part of the clause in the contract clearly had to do with making public negative statements and the employee felt that this particular posting was not public. The tribunal disagreed because any recorded statement could be easily copied and retransmitted.

        So could you be fired from Apple for complaining about the company in the staff room? It would depend on whether or not the contract Apple made you sign prohibited you from complaining about the company in the staff room.

        I would warn Apple employees though that they should be extremely careful about writing any negative emails about Apple, even if you only send it to another Apple employee. Since emails can easily be forwarded out of the company and into the public, and all of us know this, you would get fired for sending that email even if you you believed it was a private email only intended for 1 other person within Apple.

        Apple clearly does not tolerate any employee holding negative beliefs about Apple. You've been warned.
        toddybottom
    • RE: Apple 'fires employee' for critical Facebook posting: Were they right to?

      @DeRSSS And so the "Corporate right to breed Corruption or abuse and be protected" is born? ....
      OMatrix
    • Wow, Thank you!

      @DeRSSS

      You have all made me glad I live in America! I've taken it for granted! Here, except apparently for Apple, we take freedom of speech very seriously. It's in our constitution as a fundamental UNALIENABLE right. The limitations of freedom of speech are defined by LAW for everyone, and they are not to be abridged by the legal department of a COMPANY. Our freedoms are not sundered by SMALL PRINT!

      If this is a case of defamation, where the employee was making false claims simply to harm the company, that is one thing. No company should be made to employ someone who actively wishes harm to the company and/or is willing to lie to do so. For a company to restrict truthful criticism is completely unethical.

      WRITING the contract is a "dishonourable act".
      tkejlboom
      • What does freedom of speech protect you from?

        @tkejlboom
        "It's in our constitution as a fundamental UNALIENABLE right."

        Does freedom of speech protect you from other individuals and corporations or does it protect you from the government? I believe it is the latter.

        The government cannot throw you in jail for saying bad things about the government but an employer can certainly fire you for saying bad things about the employer and a friend can certainly defriend you for saying bad things about them.

        A constitutional lawyer can certainly correct me if I'm wrong but I believe that freedom of speech is there to protect you from the government, not from private individuals and corporations.
        toddybottom
      • RE: Apple 'fires employee' for critical Facebook posting: Were they right to?

        @tkejlboom Freedom of speech is for public matters, this is a private corporation and violates their work agreement / terms of service. You don't have to work there if you disagree with the rules.
        gary@...
      • Yes employees ARE protected here in the US.

        @tkejlboom <br>Despite what @toddybottom says there are laws here in America that protect the rights of employees to say things about their employer in "water cooler" conversations at work and away from work. There have been several cases of companies sacking people for what the have said about the company or their boss on "Face"broke. The sacked employees won and the companies have taken a worse public opinion pounding from having stuck their noses into "private" conversations even though they occurred in cyberspace.<br>Just another case of Apple Almighty being the "BAD" Apple with government connivance at that.
        Tholian_53
      • RE: Apple 'fires employee' for critical Facebook posting: Were they right to?

        @tkejlboom

        I think your understanding of the Constitution is a bit weak.
        msalzberg
      • RE: Apple 'fires employee' for critical Facebook posting: Were they right to?

        @tkejlboom
        I don't think this story is complete. Employers in the UK have a much harder time firing an employee than in the US. There are a number of possibilities here:
        - the employee was relatively new, and still in the probationary period before the employement protection rules come into effect
        - there was a pattern of prior misconduct that had been documented by the company, and this was the last straw
        - the offense was seen as so serious (i.e. "gross misconduct") that an instant dismissal was appropriate. Believe me, UK laws set quite a high bar for this one.

        Employees in the UK are much safer in their jobs than US workers. But I'm sure you don't want an MBA-style lecture on the law here.
        A.Sinic
      • RE: Apple 'fires employee' for critical Facebook posting: Were they right to?

        @toddybottom I would believe you are correct.
        ItsTheBottomLine
      • RE: Apple 'fires employee' for critical Facebook posting: Were they right to?

        @tkejlboom What company do you work for? It's not rocket science. You *do* have the freedom to say what you want. Your company *does* have the freedom to let you go. Works both ways. I've always tried to stick by a rule of thumb that says, "Don't sh*t where you eat."
        JoeFoerster
      • RE: Apple 'fires employee' for critical Facebook posting: Were they right to?

        @tkejlboom,

        Sadly you don't understand your first amendment rights. As Toddybottom stated the first amendment (actually the first 10 amendments) limits what the Government can do to you. A corporation is not the government.

        Interesting side point, military personal are prohibited by law from criticizing the commander-in-chief, and several officers have been relieved of duty because they did just that in a public fashion. So really the federal government has the same policy as Apple.

        (For Instance)
        http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/37866754/ns/us_news-military/t/obama-relieves-mcchrystal-command/#.TrG2_t4r2nA

        "Obama said bluntly that Gen. Stanley McChrystal's scornful remarks about administration officials represent conduct that "undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system.""
        YaBaby
      • RE: Apple 'fires employee' for critical Facebook posting: Were they right to?

        @tkejlboom The problem is that here in America there is a disconnect between "Rights" and "Responsibilities". Just because I have the "Right" to say something ridiculous about @tkejlboom does not mean that saying it is a "responsible" thing to do.

        As an employer, I seek at all times to uphold the identity and image of my business. If I have acted in a way that causes distress to an employee, then that employee certainly has the right to discuss it in private with me, but does NOT have the right to denigrate the company in public because that could in theory lead to the loss of employment not only for that employee, but for all the others as well.

        In the UK, Freedom of Speech is limited essentially to Freedom of Truthful Speech. This would be a huge improvement if the USA was the same.

        And of course a recent Facebook posting bears repeating: "I'll believe a corporation is a person with a right to Freedom of Speech, just as soon as Texas executes one"!
        aldux
      • RE: Apple 'fires employee' for critical Facebook posting: Were they right to?

        @tkejlboom ... You need to read up on what "freedom of speech" is about and who it applies to. It does not cover YOUR freedom of speech unless it's the government limiting it. Too many people are ignorant of what these things really mean and spout them ignorantly.
        tom@...
      • RE: Apple 'fires employee' for critical Facebook posting: Were they right to?

        @tkejlboom This happened in the UK, not the US, so the freedom of speech does not apply. Different country, different rules.
        Muttz
    • RE: Apple 'fires employee' for critical Facebook posting: Were they right to?

      @DeRSSS

      So....if Apple decided to demand its employees turn over their first born child to the company it would be 'dishonorable' to fail to fulfill it?

      You cannot justify an immoral policy by saying that someone agreed to be bound by it, and the question here is 'is Apple's policy here immoral?' and I think the clear answer is 'yes'.

      What is really 'dishonorable' is Apple making this demand of its employees in the first place.
      Doctor Demento