Social Media…grounds for termination?

The Fair Work Commission has increasingly been required to review issues raised by the use of social media in the workplace.

The proliferation of, and use of, social media sites, with nearly 70 per cent of Australians on Facebook and around 20 per cent on Instagram and Snapchat, has resulted in employees posting comments which often extend far wider that they had anticipated.

Businesses have begun to realise that social media can be used by their employees in inappropriate ways, which might damage their business.

It isn’t particularly surprising that a number of unfair dismissal claims have ended up before the Fair Work Commission, arising from posts on social media.

 

The following cases provide some useful tips:

  • An employee was sacked after posting that their night out was spoiled by someone having a heart attack.
  • An architect was dismissed for excessively using social media during working hours…allegedly more than 3,000 in a three-month period. It was found that the employee wasn’t given an opportunity to respond prior to the dismissal and was found to have been unfairly dismissed.
  • An employee posted a crude and threatening Facebook rant on his home computer outside of working hours and while he had blocked the fellow employee who was the subject of the rant, other employees read the post. It was found that the action of the employee amounted to serious misconduct and the dismissal stood. Although not naming the employer when posting comments about their boss, the dismissal was upheld on the basis that anyone who knew the employee would know that the comment related to their workplace.
  • Photos of employees planking in dangerous positions resulted in dismissal

The old saying “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”, no longer applies and with virtually everyone with a mobile phone and people connected 24/7, nothing goes “unseen” and problems which previously would have been left at work when everyone goes home, now follow people home after work, which can lead to social media bullying and employees venting their frustration.

Nevertheless, employees have a right to free speech and privacy, so there must be a legitimate connection to the workplace and the conduct must damage the reputation of the business.

The Fair Work Commission has however, confirmed that a social media policy is a legitimate exercise of a business power to protect the security and reputation of their business…but it is vital that the business has a social media guideline in place, which is clearly communicated to all employees and obtains an acknowledgement that the employee has read and understood it.

Training is an important foundation to effectively enforce your social media policy. The policy should address bullying, cyber bullying and the use of social media… including what behaviour is appropriate and acceptable and what is not. It must also be clear that they will continue to apply, even outside working hours and also make it clear the consequences for failing to comply with it