How NOT to fire your pub staff

By Georgina Townshend contact

- Last updated on GMT

Poor image: firing someone via text or social media could lead to a damaged reputation and/or an employment tribunal
Poor image: firing someone via text or social media could lead to a damaged reputation and/or an employment tribunal

Related tags: Social media, Employment

After a pub landlord has been blasted this week for firing five staff members via text and Facebook, The Morning Advertiser finds out the best way of letting your staff go - and avoiding a potentially costly employment tribunal and a damaged reputation.

This week the Hull Daily Mail​ reported that the new landlord of a popular Hull pub, Pearsons, owned by Inglenook Inns and Taverns, fired five members of staff via social media and text.

According to the paper, licensee Stephen Howard admitted to letting the staff members go, but said he "had to act to bring in new staff after a number of issues with the existing workers".

On the subject of using text and social media as a way of firing staff members, solicitor Melanie Morton from Nelsons said while this isn't necessarily unlawful, it can "reflect badly on the employer and damage their reputation".

Instant communication

"The increase in our reliance on social media for managing our lives has seen more casual methods of communication creep in to the workplace in recent years," she said.

"The use of text messages and social media outlets such as Facebook provide an instant method of communication that many people now rely on as a form of communicating with their employer.

"While many employers are not keen on this level of casual interaction with staff and prefer to stick with emails and letters, there are employers, particularly in the hospitality industry,who do liaise with their staff on this basis, more often due to ease and speed.

"It can be easy during a busy service to send and receive text messages or respond by Facebook messenger when trying to deal with sickness absences and cover, for example."

Important decisions 

Morton said there may be benefits to this type of communication and if it suits both parties then "that is fine".

However, a point at which she would advise against communicating with staff in this way is when delivering any important decisions about their work, terms and conditions or even dismissal.

"You can terminate someone’s employment if they are not performing, but dismissal should not occur until a fair dismissal process has been followed," she continued.

"This would usually involve, in line with the ACAS code of practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures, advising the employee of the nature of the problem, inviting them to a meeting to discuss it, providing them with relevant evidence, allowing them the right to be accompanied by a colleague or a trade union representative and allowing them the right to appeal against the outcome."

Therefore, simply texting a member of staff to inform them of your decision could fall foul of these requirements and, where the employee has more than two years continuous service, would expose the pub to an unfair dismissal claim, she said.

Reflect badly

"As these news reports show, not only can a dismissal by social media or text fall foul of employment law, there is also still an evident level of stigma and ‘unfairness’ about the concept of sacking someone by text/Facebook message.

"It might not be unlawful where the employee does not have the requisite service to bring a claim for unfair dismissal, but it can reflect badly on the employer and damage their reputation.

"Employers should also ensure that they follow any contractual disciplinary procedure that they have in place before dismissing anybody as they will risk a breach of contract claim if they side step their own process in that respect."

A James Waddington, director of Inglenook Inns & Taverns Limited, commented: "As an organisation Inglenook Group always treat people with professionalism and courtesy.

"While we do not directly employ the team at Pearson’s as they are employed by the pub’s operator, we are already looking into this further."

Related topics: Legislation

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