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China: Termination Based on Employee’s Insulting WeChat Moment Was Held Legitimate

Ms. Ye (the “employee”) joined the financial service company (the “employer”) and served as project manager. One day, the employee accused another female staff member of having improper relations with a colleague, supervisor and client, and used bad language in her WeChat Moment post. The employee posted this information around midnight and deleted the same after three days. The employer believed that the employee had violated the company’s policies and terminated her for cause. The employee argued that her post of this WeChat Moment had a short duration and did not cause any adverse effect.

The employee subsequently initiated labour arbitration proceedings before filing a lawsuit against the employer, and claimed indemnification for wrongful termination of employment. The Guangzhou Intermediate Court heard this dispute and eventually dismissed the employee’s claims. The Court mainly reasoned that: 1) comments on social media platforms like WeChat shall still be regulated by law; 2) the employee’s actions were wrongful and amounted to personal attacks and insults against others; 3) as WeChat was the usual communication tool among colleagues and clients, the employee’s improper comments via WeChat Moment had caused an adverse effect on the corporate image, reputation and internal management; and 4) it was both legitimate and lawful for the employer to terminate the employee for cause.

Key Action Points for Human Resources and In-house Counsel

Employment disputes in connection with an employee’s use of social media has become more and more common nowadays. Employees in China often use their private social media accounts to communicate with co-workers, supervisors, suppliers and clients of the company. To exert effective Human Resource Management (HRM), it is advisable for employers to incorporate social media policies in the employee handbook.