Thu 13 Jun 2019

Cyber Picketing - A New form of Industrial Action?

The news is awash with stories about cyber security and how you need to protect yourself or your organisation against criminals out to cause havoc or fraud. But have you heard the term cyber picketing?

The clue that it is employment related lies in the second word. 

The term was recently adopted by an Employment Tribunal in the case of Rogers v Picturehouse Cinemas Limited.

The idea behind the phrase is not new. In 1998 the Communications Workers' Union deluged Critchley Labels, a Welsh telecommunications firm, with emails to prevent it receiving electronic orders in a union recognition dispute.

However we now live in the age of online shopping.

This time round Ms Rogers and her union was in dispute with their employer over pay and conditions.

She worked in a London cinema and was the local union acting branch secretary for BECTU.

In addition to helping to organise a series of traditional strikes Ms Rogers canvassed the idea in an email of mustering support from the public to go online and to start but not to complete the booking of cinema tickets on strike days. By holding the tickets in the unpaid online basket they would be able to deprive genuine cinema goers from booking online. The email was sent after the subject of cyber picketing was briefly discussed amongst union members in a pub.

When they found out the employee's trade union wrote to the employee stating that the practice was not authorised or condoned by it and she did not pursue the matter. 

However the employee's email was reported to management and she was dismissed for gross misconduct.

The Employment Tribunal held her dismissal to be automatically unfair as it related to the activities of an independent trade union at the appropriate time. When the employee wrote the email she did not realise that cyber picketing might be unlawful but she accepted that it was by the time of her disciplinary hearing.

The Employment Tribunal  held that it did not need to decide if cyber picketing could constitute a legitimate form of trade union activity adding that it could see the force of the employee's suggestion that it was hard to distinguish its effect from forms of activity that are legitimate.

What was important to the Tribunal was the fact that the employee did not engage in cyber-picketing-she merely suggested it in an email summarising the discussion at a trade union meeting and then, having been told by her union that it was potentially unlawful and not condoned, she took no further steps to make it happen.

The Tribunal observed that it was not self evident that cyber picketing would be an unlawful activity.


If the Tribunal's observation is accurate this could give rise to serious ramifications for employers in different unionised sectors. It should be noted that the union itself accepted the action was unlawful and this Tribunal decision has no binding effect. However employers in similar circumstances still need to tread carefully and fully analyse the facts when considering similar dismissals.

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