Belfast Telegraph

Civil servant should not have been disciplined over Facebook criticism of DUP and Tories, tribunal rules

By Sophie Inge

A junior civil servant who was disciplined after slamming the DUP and Conservative Party on Facebook suffered unlawful discrimination, an employment tribunal has ruled.

Sarah McCrossan, who worked for the then Department for Social Development (now Department for Communities) in the employment support allowance branch, was disciplined after an anonymous complaint was made about her posts. 

They included a message posted the day after the May 5 elections in which she referred to those who voted Tory or DUP as “self-serving b******s”.

In the same post the civil servant goes on to mourn the loss of the NHS, the welfare state, full employment contracts, financial independence, reproductive rights and gay marriage.

“Most importantly, goodbye empathy and care for others,” the post continued.

“We used to pride ourselves on helping others but now it’s clear we couldn’t give a f*** about our fellow humans already living in poverty, on zero hours contracts or without homes.”

The post concluded: “Well done UK, Maggie would be proud, there will be ‘no such thing as society’ in five years!”

A disciplinary hearing took place on June 16, 2015, and Ms McCrossan was given a one-year formal written warning.

But last week the Fair Employment Tribunal ruled that she had been unlawfully disciplined for expressing her personal views on social media. It ruled that Ms McCrossan had “suffered unlawful discrimination on the grounds of political opinion and is entitled to compensation for injury to feelings”.

Speaking after the ruling, Ms McCrossan said: “I shouldn’t have been disciplined for privately expressing my frustration at the devastation faced by many because of welfare cuts.

“Debate and freedom of expression are the basic tenets of a democratic society and I’m glad that the tribunal upheld the right of civil servants to have personal opinions regardless of the view of whatever minister is in charge at any given time.”

Solicitor John McShane from McCartan Turkington Breen said the strength of the decision reflected how the department’s policy could have a chilling effect on free speech.

He added: “It represents a victory for civil servants that their status as civil servants does not preclude them from holding personal views, expressed in a private setting, on political matters.”

Nipsa general secretary Alison Millar said the case highlighted how freedom of speech must be protected at all times.

“It is clear that the department was intent on disciplining Sarah for expressing her political opinion on social media even when her Facebook page didn’t indicate that she was a civil servant, nor that she worked for the Department for Social Development.”

Belfast Telegraph


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