UK: Sacking UK Employee For Inappropriate Tweets May Be A "Fair" Dismissal Under UK Law

Last Updated: 6 February 2015
Article by Mandy Perry and Rachel Easter

In the recent case of Game Retail Limited v Laws, the UK Employment Appeal Tribunal (or "EAT") considered the fairness of an employee's dismissal for offensive tweets. This is the first time this issue has been considered at EAT level. The EAT found that the dismissal was fair, even though the Twitter account was not linked to Mr Laws' employment, and his posts were made in his own time.

The facts

Mr Laws was employed by Game as a Loss and Prevention Officer, with responsibility for monitoring and investigating loss, theft and fraud in approximately 100 Game stores across the UK. Game stores tend to have their own Twitter account so they can keep in touch with local store users, and Mr Laws followed a number of his stores (who followed him back). Ironically, the reason Mr Laws did so was to monitor the stores' Twitter feeds for inappropriate content.

Mr Laws set up this Twitter account in his free time, and operated it in his personal capacity. He did not identify his role at Game on his account, and, unlike the stores he followed, did not use the account to communicate with Game employees or customers in a professional capacity. However, he was aware that certain stores followed him, and did not take any steps to address this.

One of the Game store managers complained to Game that Mr Laws had made a number of offensive tweets. There followed a disciplinary hearing into Mr Laws' conduct and 28 offensive tweets were identified. The tweets were reportedly offensive to "dentists, caravan drivers, golfers, the A&E department, Newcastle supporters, the police and disabled people". Game investigated Mr Laws' conduct and summarily dismissed him for gross misconduct. Subsequently Mr Laws brought a claim for unfair dismissal in the Employment Tribunal.

The decision

As many readers of this blog will likely know, to dismiss an employee in the UK who has been employed for more than 2 years, you must have a fair reason and follow a fair procedure (NB: that's the shorthand version of the law – for more details please contact one of the London employment team). In extreme circumstances where an employee has committed an act of gross misconduct, an employer may be able to terminate the employee's contract fairly without notice (i.e. summarily). This is a very high bar in the UK, and is something employers often fall down on when put to proof in court.

An employee's misconduct – perhaps for posting something like "[t]his week I have mainly been driving to towns the a*** end of nowhere...shut roads and t**** in caravans = road rage and loads of fags smoked" – is one of the five potentially fair reasons for dismissal. For a misconduct dismissal to be fair, the test the Employment Tribunals apply is to establish whether the employer:

  1. Believes the employee to be guilty of misconduct;
  2. Has reasonable grounds for that belief; and
  • Has carried out as much investigation as is reasonable.

In addition, the employer's decision to dismiss the employee as a result of that misconduct has to fall within what is known as the "range of reasonable responses" that a reasonable employer, who found themselves in those circumstances, and in that business, may have taken. So dismissal does not have to be the response that every employer would have taken, or the only available response, but it does have to fall within the range.

The EAT's judgment in this case offers a very useful insight into how the employment courts in the UK will consider the relevant issues when it comes to decisions taken by employers in response to employee misconduct on social media sites. The decision has the potential to enable UK employers to take more robust action on social media infringements in the future as follows:

  1. Where a number of Game stores followed Mr Laws, his "private" Twitter account was not really private;
  2. Given the way Twitter operated (as opposed to Facebook, for example), there was no real distinction between work and personal use of the site – Mr Laws could have, but did not, create separate accounts for private and professional use;
  • Mr Laws did not utilise the restriction settings on his Twitter account, so his tweets were publically available, not least of all to any Game store following him;
  1. Mr Laws knew that he was followed by Game stores when he tweeted and he did not address this – in fact he may have actively encouraged stores to follow him;
  2. An employee's freedom of expression has to be balanced against the employer's need to manage reputational risk in its employees' tweets (and other social media communications);
  3. It was not necessary for Game to show that the tweets had caused offense, only that they were entitled to consider that they may cause offense;
  • The offensive tweets did not need to be about the employer to justify the decision, and it was also not necessary for the Twitter account to identify the employer in question to justify the decision – what was important was that the tweets were offensive, and stores, employees and customers might have read them.

Ultimately the EAT determined that Mr Laws' tweets were not private, even though they had been posted from his personal Twitter account, operated in his own time. Interestingly, in a previous social media case, the UK High Court decided that an employee's use of his Facebook account to state his religious opinions on gay marriage were not sufficiently work-related so as to justify his employer's decision to demote him. This remained the case despite the fact that in that case, the employer was identified on the employee's Facebook profile, and "friends of friends" could see his profile.

Practically speaking

So what should employers in the UK do about employee use of social media? First, if you are concerned about the use of employee's social media accounts and communications, review your social media policy: make sure you are explicit about your expectations of how employees will operate both their professional and personal social media accounts, and what behaviour is and is not acceptable.

Secondly, it may be worth giving your UK employees some clear, practical advice on how to operate their social media accounts, in particular do they use them professionally or identify their employer on them? Can employees connect with customers and clients? Can employees identify their employer and role? Have they considered whether or not their profiles are private? Make sure the policy is explicit about (i) what is considered to be inappropriate use of a social media account, and (ii) the consequences that may result if the policy is breached. Include a clear link in the social media policy to your equal opportunities and/or bullying and harassment policies.

Remember that whilst your employees in the UK have a right to freedom of expression, this is not an unfettered right, and you are entitled to take action to protect your business. It may be worth reminding employees that, whilst you appreciate that sometimes they have bad days and just need to vent, it's always best to think before you tweet.

In the UK, cases like this will always turn on their facts. Here the wide access of Game's staff and customers alike to Mr Laws' personal Twitter account, coupled with Mr Laws' failing to properly restrict the settings of his account or distinguish between private and professional use, influenced the EAT's thinking. More responsible and thoughtful use of Twitter would probably have led to a different outcome.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.