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Running a Business Via Group Chats and Instant Messaging Has Its Pitfalls

Business owners who use social media group chats or instant messaging as an easy means of communicating instructions to staff may be prompted by an Employment Tribunal (ET) decision to consider other management tools.

The owner of a family-run plant nursery suffered from anxiety and, during a period in which he largely worked from home, communicated with staff by means of social media group chats. The tone of such messages was generally very informal and jokes and swear words were sometimes included.

He set high standards, actively running the business in his own particular way, and used the group chats to express concerns and to challenge or question members of staff. There was, however, a gulf in perception and expectation between him and the nursery’s general manager as to what was, and was not, an appropriate managerial communication. His messages were not always clear or fully understood and the manager came to consider them as unprofessional.

The manager had expressed concern about criticisms of his performance contained in some of the owner’s group chat postings. However, matters reached a head when he received a private message in which the owner accused him of being dishonest and telling falsehoods. It was that message which was the main or dominant factor in his decision to resign.

Upholding the manager’s unfair constructive dismissal complaint, the ET accepted that the owner may honestly have believed that he was doing nothing wrong. He did not intend the private message to prompt the manager’s resignation although, given its content, that was highly likely to be the result.

The difference between them was better described as a misunderstanding and there was no reasonable basis for accusing the manager of deliberate falsehood or dishonesty. The ET found that the message destroyed the relationship of trust and confidence that should exist between any employer and employee.

It amounted to a fundamental breach of the manager’s employment contract. He could not reasonably have been expected to put up with it and his resignation was the almost inevitable consequence. The amount of compensation due to him would be assessed at a further hearing, if not agreed.

Published in
23 February 2023
Last Updated
12 March 2023