A CANAL worker who was sacked after he claimed on social media he was drinking while on standby for flood alert has had his unfair dismissal case victory overturned on appeal.

David Smith insisted the Facebook posts were "banter" and a "joke", but Scottish Canals dismissed him after taking the view that he had been consuming alcohol.

The 35-year-old, of Lambhill, Glasgow, who believed his online account was private, had also posted abusive messages about his supervisors, calling them w*****s and p****s.

In November, last year, employment judge Lucy Wiseman originally ruled that his dismissal was unfair, claiming the Scottish Government funded body which runs the waterways failed to consider "the nature of Facebook".

But in what is believed to be the first ever Scottish appeal decision dealing with social media misconduct the decision was overturned as it was decided the original tribunal decision had "erred in law and its decision cannot stand".

The Employment Appeal Tribunal said the original tribunal had wrongly substituted its own view of how Mr Smith's conduct should have been dealt with rather than decide whether or not the employer had acted reasonably in coming to its decision.

The EAT also decided that the original tribunal "erred in law" by deciding that the Scottish Canals had made a decision which no reasonable employer could make and found the company's disciplinary procedure to be fair.

It said that there had been a "reasonable" investigation as part of a "fair" procedure and that the employer had lost confidence in the employee. The EAT said: "The only decision that an ET properly directing itself could make was that dismissal was not unfair."

Brian Napier QC for Scottish Canals had moved for £1000 in costs to be paid by Mr Smith but later withdrew the application after hearing Mr Smith had not been able to find employment and was in the first stages of a bankruptcy procedure.

Lorna Davis, senior associate with Morton Fraser, which acted for Scottish Canals said there were lessons to be learnt for employers, as the appeal tribunal found that the decision fell within a band of reasonable responses to what happened.

"It is clear that a well drafted social media policy, which applies not only to conduct at work but also at home, can be crucial in defending any argument that a dismissal was unfair," she said.

"Effective communication of social media policies is also crucial. A conclusion that there is an impact on client relations or reputational damage should not hastily be arrived at. A proper assessment of any actual and/or potential harm should be made prior to considering the appropriate disciplinary sanction."

In the original tribunal's written judgment on the case, Ms Wiseman said that Facebook was a "social media site used for chat and frequently involves people making claims which are either exaggerated or simply not in fact true".

Judge Wiseman added that manager David Lamont, who decided to dismiss Mr Smith, also gave no consideration to the fact the comments were historic, having been made in 2011.

Mr Smith, who had worked with Scottish Canals for eight years prior to his dismissal in June 2013, claimed he was being bullied by his supervisors and was about to raise a grievance against them when the Facebook comments were emailed to the human resources department.

Mr Smith, who worked at Scottish Canals Forth and Clyde west team, alleged they were brought up to prevent him making his grievance, which also related to health and safety issues, but Judge Wiseman rejected this.

In the appeal, Mr Napier argued that drinking while on standby; telling anyone who read Facebook that he had done so; and using offensive language to describe colleagues on Facebook, open to all to read, was plainly gross misconduct and should have been found to be so by the original tribunal.

Mr Smith, who represented himself, told the EAT that he was not experienced in law and was not able to address any legal matters but emphasised that it should not cast aside the decision of the original tribunal.

The EAT judgement said: "We take the view that there is no point in remitting this case to a tribunal. We find on the facts found by the ET (employment tribunal) that there is only one answer to the question which is that the dismissal was not unfair.