Can you be fired for a WhatsApp message?

14 June 2022 111
“With so much communication happening via WhatsApp these days, even between employee and employer, it raises the question as to whether an employee can be fired for a WhatsApp sent to his/her employer?”

In terms of our labour law, any dismissal of an employee must be fair and just in terms of the Labour Relations Act. So, if an employee is to be dismissed for a WhatsApp message, this dismissal must meet the requirements of the LRA.

Our CCMA had opportunity to recently consider this situation in the case of Masondo / AG Electrical (Pty) Ltd [2022] 4 BALR 400 (CCMA). In this case an employee was dismissed after he had sent a WhatsApp message threatening to kill his employer as well as an official of the bargaining council, shortly after the employer had placed its employees on short working time during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Two contradictory views were placed before the Commissioner. The employer perceived the WhatsApp 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 employer’s version was not disputed by the employee and nor did he have any remorse or provide sound reasons for the message which he had sent. 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.

In this way the CCMA confirmed that a WhatsApp message can present grounds for dismissal, but as always, the facts of each case will need to be considered to determine whether there are grounds for dismissal or not.

Disclaimer: This article is the personal opinion/view of the author(s) and is not necessarily that of the firm. The content is provided for information only and should not be seen as an exact or complete exposition of the law. Accordingly, no reliance should be placed on the content for any reason whatsoever and no action should be taken on the basis thereof unless its application and accuracy has been confirmed by a legal advisor. The firm and author(s) cannot be held liable for any prejudice or damage resulting from action taken on the basis of this content without further written confirmation by the author(s).
Related Expertise: Labour and Employment