February 1, 2013

Facebook and Religious Belief

Smith v Trafford Housing Trust is a High Court decision regarding demotion of an employee for his postings on Facebook. Mr Smith responded to an article on the BBC News website about gay marriage by posting a link on his Facebook page objecting to the concept. He was disciplined and demoted with a salary reduction of 40% when one of his colleagues complained about it, on the grounds of gross misconduct for having breached the employer’s code of conduct and acting contrary to their equal opportunities policy. He brought a breach of contract claim alleging that the Trust was in breach of his contract for demoting him and substantially reducing his pay when he was not guilty of any misconduct. The employer’s argument was that his postings could have brought the Trust into disrepute and that he was promoting his own religious beliefs contrary to the Trust’s code of conduct.

The Judgment held that the employer was wrong to demote Mr Smith; that it was not reasonable for any Facebook reader to conclude that the postings were representations from the Trust or on its behalf; and that it was obvious to any casual reader that these were the views of Mr Smith personally. Neither did the Court consider the postings were disrespectful or likely to cause upset to Mr Smith’s colleagues. Consequently Mr Smith succeeded in his claim for breach of contract.

This legal update is provided for general information purposes only and should not be applied to specific circumstances without prior consultation with us.

For further details on any of the issues covered in this update please contact Gemma Ospedale, Partner in Employment on 020 7583 2222.

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