WhatsApp groups can get you fired in South Africa

Under certain circumstances, South African employees can lose their jobs for posts they send on WhatsApp groups, according to legal firm Wright Rose-Innes. In a recent case that went in front of the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), an employee that voiced an opinion on mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations was dismissed.

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According to Wright Rose-Innes, the staff member was instructed to keep his opinion on the mandatory vaccination policy to himself, which obviously didn’t happen. The CCMA ruled in favour of the employer, ruling the dismissal to be lawful.

According to the legal firm, employers should ask themselves the following questions before dismissing an employee for messages sent on WhatsApp:

  • Did the employee contravene a rule or standard regulating conduct in the workplace?
  • If the employee did contravene a rule, was the rule a valid or reasonable rule or standard?
  • Was the employee aware, or was it reasonable to expect them to have been aware of the rule?
  • Has the rule consistently been applied in the past?
  • Is dismissal an appropriate sanction for a contravention of the rule?

The CCMA held that, given the circumstances, the employee’s dismissal was an appropriate sanction.

“What can be taken from this is that social media and group information sharing platforms like WhatsApp do not live outside the normal responsibility of an employee to have a duty of good faith towards their employer,” the legal firm said.

“Employees should therefore take great care when posting and consider whether there could be any breach of this duty or reputational damage to their employer whenever they use such platforms or post information.”

“The employer perceived the WhatsApp [message] as an intentional threat of physical violence, whereas, the employee indicated that he was merely trying to help his fellow co-workers who faced a similar challenge as he did,” the firm said.

“The result was that the CCMA held that the employee’s conduct was seen to have broken down the employer-employee relationship, and his dismissal was thus confirmed to be substantively and procedurally fair.”