Execs fired over 'sexist' WhatsApp group sue ex-firm

They claim the chats were common in their 'jokey office'

Execs fired over 'sexist' WhatsApp group sue ex-firm

Two employees in the UK fired for sharing sexually degrading WhatsApp messages are claiming they were wrongfully dismissed.

Both have denied any misconduct and accuse their former employer of inflating the reason for their termination to avoid giving them company shares worth GBP150,000 (USD182,410).

When called out for their “crude”, “offensive” and “pornographic” messages, one of the employees said it was just a male-dominated “jokey office” with a “great” culture.

READ MORE: How to identify a toxic workplace

According to Metro News, the company claimed they discovered the “sexist banter” when a former employee handed in their old work phone. On the social messaging app, they found pornographic images and videos, as well as comparisons made with female co-workers.

Employees Paul Wells and Robert Solaris claimed the messages had stopped following a company take-over. However, the company retorted that the offensive chatter were shared well on until January 2019 – two years after the take-over. They also accused Solaris of using gambling and porn websites at work.

In January, Wells and Solaris told bosses they wanted to cash in their company shares. Three months later, the employees claim they were “summarily dismissed”, making their shares worthless. The pair are suing their former employers for GBP300,000.

In London’s high court, the company’s defence lawyer called out the employees for their offensive behaviour, reported Metro.

‘The members of the group were accustomed to sending each other crude, offensive sexist and pornographic messages,” said lawyer Edward Levey.

“Not only did the members of the group make offensive and sexist comments about women in general, but some of their offensive remarks were directed at certain specific female employees of PNC.

“The female employees who were being discussed on the group were not aware of what was being said about them behind their backs but if they had known, the women in question would have been horrified.”

READ MORE: Men of #MeToo are back, and no one knows quite how to respond

Wells defended their actions by responding that “horrified in the wrong word” and their female co-workers would have simply been “pissed off”.

“‘It was a jokey office,” Wells said. “The two women in question would also make reference to the blokes in the office and take the piss out of the blokes.

“The office was a very blokey laddish office. There was some bad language in the office and a few people pranked each other.  I’ve known these guys for a long time. That culture that we had was a great one. I’m not saying these videos were right, but they were just sent for amusement. This was just a lads’ group.”

As social apps like WhatsApp become a norm for both personal and professional uses, HRD reached out to an industry expert to find out if HR could prevent such misconduct on the mobile platforms. He outlined top priorities companies should follow to create a strong and effective social media policy.

  • Clarify what is permitted and prohibited
    Make it clear that the policy is referring to what employees can do during and outside of working hours, and/or in terms of using the employer’s resources.
  • Confirm that the policy does apply to social media use outside of work hours
    This should apply only where it impacts on either the employer or workplace, covering issues where the employee’s use of social media can cause significant business or reputational damage to the company.
  • Ban abusive behaviour
    The policy needs to make clear that the employee should not be using social media to unlawfully discriminate, defame, bully or harass anyone – that the impact of such behaviour on the platform will cause as much damage if done in a face-to-face discussion.
  • Make the consequences clear
    Make it clear that a breach of the policy can result in disciplinary action and reference the point that this can be up to and including termination.

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