WhatsApp is a popular means of communication; employers often create group chats within their Company to communicate instructions or share relevant company information. But what happens when an employee uses this means of communication to share his or her view of a topic that could ultimately affect the working environment?

In a recent CCMA decision, Gerber / Xone Control Room Management (Pty) Ltd – (2022) 31 CCMA 8.37.15 also reported at (2022) 6 BALR 584 (CCMA), a manager posted a message on a WhatsApp group of one of his employer’s clients asserting that all employees were legally entitled to refuse to be vaccinated. The manager objected to his employer’s client forcing his employees to be vaccinated.

This obviously directly impacted the working relationship between the employer and his client. Disciplinary action was taken against the manager. Even though mandatory vaccinations are controversial, they have not been found to be unconstitutional. Therefore, expressing one’s personal views on a public forum impacts the working relationship between employer and employee. This manager was dismissed for his actions. The Commissioner ruled that the dismissal was indeed fair as the manager’s actions could have severely endangered the contract with the Respondent’s client, and it amounted to a breach of trust.

In Masondo / AG Electrical (Pty) Ltd (2022) 4 BALR 400 (CCMA), an employee was dismissed after he sent a WhatsApp message threatening to kill his employer shortly after the employer placed employees on short time during the COVID-19 pandemic. The employee tried to justify his actions by stating that he was merely trying to help other employees during a very difficult time, as they were all under financial strain. The employer viewed the threat as an intentional threat of physical violence. The CCMA upheld the dismissal and found it to be substantially and procedurally fair.

Obviously, each case will be judged on its own merits, but recent decisions indicate that the CCMA is taking a firm stance on what is posted on WhatsApp groups, “status updates,” or any form of social media as it has a direct impact on the employer-employee relationship and a dismissal can be justified. Employers are therefore urged to be certain that there is a social media policy in the workplace and that all employees are aware of and understand the policy. We live in the technological age; the internet and social media have become an inextricable part of our daily lives. Therefore, what is said on social media can potentially destroy the employment relationship.

Article by: Claire Turner
Provincial Manager – CEO Durban