Employee fired over outburst about Prince George

Angela Gibbins, a former employee of the British Council, has reportedly brought claims of unfair dismissal, wrongful dismissal, and belief discrimination following her dismissal from her role as Head of Global Estates over comments she made on social media.

Ms Gibbins reportedly posted a comment on a picture of Prince George on Facebook that said: “White privilege. Cheeky grin is the (already locked-in) innate knowledge that he’s Royal, rich, advantaged and will never know any difficulties or hardships in life. Let’s find photos of three-year-old Syrian refugee children and see if they look alike, eh?” According to reports, Ms Gibbins made further comments about the royal family including stating that they do not “have any place in a modern democracy" and that they "live on public money". The British Council is a charity and its patron is Queen Elizabeth II and the Prince of Wales is the Vice-Patron; the great-grandmother and grandfather of Prince George.

Ms Gibbins alleges that her comments were based on her socialist, atheist and republican beliefs and because of these beliefs she was subsequently dismissed following a period of suspension.

The Equality Act 2010 protects employees against less favourable treatment because of a philosophical belief. What constitutes a “philosophical belief” was considered in Grainger plc and others v Nicholson [2010]. The position as summarised in Nicholson is as follows:

  • the belief must be genuinely held;

  • it must be a belief, and not an opinion or a viewpoint based on the present state of information available;

  • it must be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;

  • it must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance; and

  • it must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental ights of others.

The tribunal hearing continues.

Misuse of social media could amount to a potential fair reason for dismissal. This is provided that the employee’s misconduct goes to the foundation of the employment relationship. Conduct and behaviour at work or in public that is damaging to the employer’s reputation is likely to be misconduct.

In British Waterways Board v Smith [2015], the employment tribunal found that the employer’s decision to dismiss an employee for comments made on Facebook was within the range of reasonable responses. In this case, a part-time employee made the following derogatory comments about his workplace: “that’s why I hate my work for these reasons its not the work it’s the people who ruin it nasty horrible human beings”. The employee further commented by writing “on standby tonight so only going to get half pissed lol.” 

Although there are profound benefits to the use of social media, particularly to those organisations who are heavily reliant on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter for marketing their services, employers must ensure that their company handbook covers social media and the consequences of breaching it. 

Leyton Legal