Woman wins dismissal case after claim Facebook post was “hate-speech”

A woman who was sacked after being accused of being linked to a Facebook post which was said to be critical of refugees has won over €10,500 for unfair dismissal at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC).

Ms Irene Glynn told the WRC that her employer, the Carlow Dental Centre, had given her no opportunity to defend herself and that she had not been given notice of termination of employment.

She said that she was absent from work on certified sick leave when she received a text message from a member of management on Friday 6 January 2023 requesting that she remove a comment she was accused of having posted on a Facebook page.

“Ireland is on its knees; Irish working people can’t afford heating or food, yet refugees think it’s a free-for-all. Stay, fight for your country; our grandparents fought against the English, do the same,” read a screenshot of an alleged comment on the Irish Supporters of Ukraine Facebook page which had been sent to Ms Glynn’s employers.

The screenshot was accompanied by a message saying: “Your staff have very extreme views when it comes to refugees coming into Ireland.”

Ms Glynn responded to the management message saying that as she was on certified sick leave, it was inappropriate that she be contacted – and she outlined that her partner had her mobile phone that day as his phone was broken.

Her partner read the text from the member of management and took it upon himself to respond.

Ms Glynn was due to return to work the following Tuesday; however, she received an email on Monday 9 January 2023 advising her that she had been dismissed for gross misconduct.

She told the tribunal in her complaint that she was not a member of a political group, that she was free to share her opinions, and that she was entitled to freedom of speech.

Ms Glynn also stated that she was not told by her employers to desist from posting comments at any stage previously.

She added that her social media account could have been hacked for all employers knew – and that what the member of the public had seen and reported to the respondent may not have been a posting made by the complainant.

She added that her seven years working for the respondent, she had never been reprimanded and that her performance, conduct, and attendance was always excellent

The tribunal upheld Ms Glynn’s complaint under the Unfair Dismissals Act 1977 against Carlow Dental Centre as well as awarding her statutory notice pay under the Minimum Notice and Terms of Employment Act, 1973.

They found that her employees had failed to investigate the allegation against Ms Glynn and that the matter could perhaps have merited a warning, but not dismissal.

Carlow Dental Centre said the person who sent in the complaint “must have been triggered to check the complainant’s private Facebook page which subsequently must have led this person to the complainant’s employment information and consequently the respondent’s business page”.

They said that the line between private and professional had been crossed and that they did not want to risk any negative associations with the business.

They also stated that Carlow Dental Centre is a multicultural employer and has zero tolerance towards any written or spoken hate speech, racial remarks or anything that could cause any incitement towards minority groups in Ireland.

In cross-examination of a representative of Carlow Dental Centre, Ms Polonkai, Ms Glynn challenged her definition of hate speech and put it to Ms Polonkai that it was just her opinion that the posting on the Facebook page constituted hate speech.

Ms Polonkai who stated that the posting fell within the definition under s 2(1) of the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989.

Ms Glynn also put it to Ms Polonkai that she had been monitoring the complainant’s Facebook page since December 2022 and that a decision had been made to manage her out. This was denied by Ms Polonkai.

Ms Polonkai was asked why she did not give the complainant an opportunity to defend herself or to be given a statement of wrongdoing to which Ms Polonkai replied that the complainant’s conduct warranted immediate dismissal. Ms Polonkai also refuted that other factors came into the respondent’s decision to dismiss the complainant.

In her decision, adjudicator Bríd Deering wrote that “the dismissal of the complainant was substantively unfair”.

“The complainant’s [alleged] comments merited the respondent’s attention and perhaps a warning to desist or exercise caution in posting … but they did not constitute gross misconduct,” the adjudicator wrote.

She found it unjust  that the complainant was afforded no opportunity to co-operate in the disciplinary process. “Constitutional justice was completely dispensed with in this case. I find that this denial of constitutional justice was fundamental which also renders this dismissal unfair,” she wrote.

Ms Deering awarded Ms Glynn 17 weeks’ pay, to a total €8,552.31 in compensation under the Unfair Dismissals Act – and a further order for four weeks’ notice pay, €2,012.31, under the Minimum Notice and Terms of Employment Act 1973, bringing the total orders in the case to €10,564.62.

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