It’s easy to forget that anyone can view our Tweets and Facebook posts and that screenshots can now preserve comments published on social media. Employees especially taking to social media to share their frustrations with an employer or a colleague should think before typing. But can an employer terminate an employee for such posts shared in their private capacity? Below, we set out some examples whereby employers have lawfully terminated an employee for comments made on social media.
We are all familiar with examples of social media-mishaps. Who can forget the heavily publicised Twitter fiasco of Justine Sacco, with her comment stating ‘Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!’ This comment attracted the wrath of Twitter’s followers, with many calling for her employer, IAC, to fire her. Ms. Sacco had boarded an 11-hour flight following her misguided Twitter joke and was completely unaware of the public backlash until arriving at her destination in Cape Town. She was subject to public condemnation, hotels refused to serve her, family members disowned her, and IAC fired her.
More recently, Chrysler’s Twitter account came under fire when an employee mistakenly tweeted, ‘I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity, and yet no one here knows how to f@#%*ing drive.’ The employee meant to tweet this comment under a different account name. However, this blunder ended up costing him his job with the PR agency that handled Chrysler’s social media presence.
So How Can an Employee be Fired for This?
In an age where technology has blurred the line between work and home to such an extent that some jobs are effectively 24-hour commitments, separating the two worlds is challenging. Companies now have their own social media accounts and employees may use their personal accounts to interact with company postings, clients and events. This is when employees need to consider the impact of what they post or is posted about them online. For employers, the driving question is whether an employee’s actions online can negatively affect the company’s reputation.
Employers need to make sure that they have a clear social media policy in place to allow them to fire an employee if they breach that policy. Without a clear policy, it can be difficult for employers to prove that an employee should have known what they can and can’t do online. Stutsel v Linfox Australia Pty. Ltd., highlights the importance of this. Linfox terminated Stutsel because of comments he made on his personal Facebook page about two of his employers. Stutsel brought an unfair dismissal claim, and the court held that as Linfox did not have any clear social media policies, they could not fire him for serious misconduct based on the facts.
If your business relies on social media for advertising and interactions with clients and the public, it is even more important to ensure your employees understand what is required of them when they go online. Providing training in appropriate social media usage, encouraging separate personal and work accounts and informing employees about how to use security settings will help protect your business even further.
Questions about your business’ social media policy? Let our employment lawyers know on 1300 544 755.