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£30,000 unfair dismissal payout for food worker sacked over Facebook ‘like’

September 25 2014

A food inspector who was fired from his job over comments he made on Facebook has been awarded more than £30,000 at an employment tribunal.

Alan Blue, a former meat hygiene inspector for the Food Standards Agency at Wishaw Abattoir in North Lanarkshire, was unfairly dismissed after he ‘liked’ a comment on the social media site which appeared to threaten violence towards the site’s manager.

Herald Scotland  reports that Mr Blue’s dismissal followed the sacking of two abattoir workers who posted comments about their dismissal online.

When one wrote about the manager being attacked, Mr Blue, 51, of Eaglesham, wrote: “Aye right, I wish.” (sic)

The other sacked employee then wrote that his boss was “lucky a never f***ed a chair aff his heed” and Mr Blue ‘liked’ the comment.

The Facebook posts were then brought to the attention of management at the abattoir, who in turn complained to the FSA.

Mr Blue said: “I was quite shocked when I saw the workers had been sacked and I sympathised with them.

“I said I was sorry to hear that and said ‘that place is getting worse’. Then one of them made the comment about hitting one of the bosses over the head with a chair and – taking it as banter – I ‘liked’ it.

“I found it kind of humorous, I didn’t think for a minute that he actually meant it and I never wanted anybody to get hurt.

The FSA launched a disciplinary investigation on the matter, claiming the posts were a “breach of trust” and “not professional”.

The agency also claimed all of its employees had been issued with guidance on the use of social media, however the tribunal found that this was “primarily directed at use at work”.

“I couldn’t believe that I had been sacked after 20 years’ service for a stupid conversation on Facebook,” Mr Blue told Herald Scotland.

During the tribunal, the FSA claimed there had been a breakdown in trust and confidence between the agency and Mr Blue as a result of the posts.

However, Employment Judge Peter Wallington QC said: “The claimant had an exemplary record of performing his duties, in particular with reference to instituting any necessary enforcement action.

Mr Blue was awarded a total of £32,799.13 – including £4,560.96 for breach of contract and £28,238.17 for unfair dismissal. He had asked to be reinstated with the agency, but the judge rejected his request.

A spokeswoman for the FSA said: “We are disappointed with the tribunal’s conclusions but believe that the decisions managers took were the right ones given the circumstances at the time.”

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