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UK tribunal upholds Apple's firing of retail employee for critical Facebook post

A British Employment Tribunal has upheld Apple's decision to dismiss a retail store employee who violated company policy by posting derogatory comments about his employer on the Facebook social networking site.

The employee, named Crisp, lodged a complaint with the tribunal after he was fired for gross misconduct when negative posts to a private Facebook page were passed along to the Apple Store manager by a coworker. Though Crisp had argued that the dismissal was unfair because the messages were private, the tribunal decided that the communication was not protected because friends could have easily copied and shared it.

Also at issue was whether Apple's social media policy prohibiting "commentary on Apple products, or critical remarks about the brand," was valid, as noted by People Management. Report author Jamie Hamnett, an employment partner at law firm Addleshaw Goddard LLP, wrote that the tribunal upheld Apple's policy partly because its brand and image are central to its success.

"[Crisp] retained his right to freedom of expression under Article 10, but Apple successfully argued that it was justified and proportionate to limit this right in order to protect its commercial reputation against potentially damaging posts," the report said.

ifoAppleStore noted that Apple does allow employees to post on the Internet, but forbids employees from mentioning the company's name or their employment at Apple.

Apple has in the past faced numerous legal complaints from employees over alleged unfair dismissals and discrimination. For instance, earlier this year, a former employee at an Apple Store in St. Louis, Mo., accused Apple of race and gender discrimination. Late last year, the company also received complaints of age discrimination and alleged unfair treatment of an employee with a medical condition.

According to Apple's most recent 10-K filing with the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission, 36,000 of its 60,400 full-time employees work at its retail stores. As of the end of the September quarter, the iPhone maker had a total of 357 stores worldwide.

News of the tribunal's decision comes as Apple's retail business appears to have been left without a leader. Former Apple senior vice president of retail Ron Johnson left the company on Nov. 1 to be come the new CEO at retailer J.C. Penney. Apple quickly removed his name and picture from its list of executive profiles without adding a replacement.

Johnson had played a pivotal role in setting up the Apple Store model. Late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs hired him away from Target in 2000 to help launch the company's retail division.

The company said earlier this year that it was "actively recruiting" for Johnson's successor. Apple even reportedly turned to an executive headhunting firm to take its search overseas.