09 Apr 2018

You are fired - Social Media Update

by Verlie Oosthuizen, Partner, Durban,
Practice Area(s): Social Media / Cyber Crimes | Employment |

We have been warning people for years that they should be very careful about the things that they post on their Facebook pages if they want to keep their jobs.  It has taken a while for the judgments to catch up with our advice – probably because court rolls are clogged, and court cases are expensive – but we can expect a lot more in the near future.  There are not many Labour Court cases about dismissals for social media utterances, but one was reported recently which confirmed what we have long suspected… racial rants on Facebook will get you fired.

The case in the spotlight involved a policeman who posted a “vitriolic racist comment” on the Facebook page of Mr Julius Malema.  He did it at the time that Malema was the leader of the ANC Youth League which gives you an idea of how long it takes for matters to move through the courts.  One of the more inflammatory statements in the post was “…we’ll teach whites some lesson. We’ll commit a genocide on them. I hate whites…”

The judge commented that he was alarmed that Malema had not done anything about the comments and explained that a journalist had come across the comments and written an article about it.  Initially, investigators into the complaint battled to access the page as the policeman had restricted access to it, however a simple Google search eventually solved the case! All sorts of technical arguments came to nothing and the policeman was dismissed.

The court found that he had “used disgraceful and racist language constituting hate speech, he did so in his capacity as a police officer, and he did so on a quasi-public forum accessible go potentially thousands of Facebook users… there is no doubt that dismissal was a fair sanction.”

It is clear that courts will not tolerate the use of social media as a platform to vent discriminatory views.  Do not expect any sympathy if you indulge in this type of behaviour!