Ryanair sacks staff for posting “sleeping” photo on social media

Airline Ryanair has faced a media backlash after dismissing six members of its cabin crew for posting a photo on Twitter of them apparently asleep on the floor of a Spanish airport.

When stranded overnight at an airport due to a storm that prevented their departure, staff took the opportunity to vent their frustration at not being provided with hotel rooms by taking a picture of crew members lying on the floor of a crew room. The image was posted on social media and subsequently went viral.

Ryanair claimed that the picture was staged and “no crew slept on the floor”, and decided that by taking and posting the picture online, the employees in the photo had damaged the company’s reputation and that the company was therefore within its rights to dismiss the employees because of their “irreparable breach of trust”.

The Portuguese airline union which represents the employees has challenged Ryanair’s version of events, saying that the crew were placed in a room between 01.30am and 06.00am without “minimum rest facilities” and without access to food and drink and with only 8 chairs available for 24 employees.

The fact that the photo had gone viral meant that there had been widespread publicity of the dispute.

The use of social media to complain about an employer is increasingly common and employers should consider how they can protect themselves from reputational damage. Stories from employees can become exaggerated and sensationalised when posted online, and there is a risk that the facts get lost.

In order to avoid these risks, employers should:

  1. Have a social media policy in place which states that employees cannot post derogatory comments or criticism of you, clients, customers or colleagues on personal accounts. It should also set out that breach of this policy will result in disciplinary action.

  2. Make sure you’ve properly trained your employees on acceptable behaviour when using social media.

  3. If you want to dismiss an employee due to their social media posts, follow a fair disciplinary process and consider whether there is a more proportionate alternative to dismissal.