Employees use social media in both a personal and professional capacity and can consequently create problems in the workplace. Employers and employees should then consider, what are the consequences for ‘misbehaving’ online? Generally speaking, an employer can dismiss an employee for inappropriate Twitter comments if they are relevant to the employee’s working relationship. Each year the Fair Work Commission hears more and more claims for unfair dismissal for inappropriate tweets and behaviour on social media.

Twitter is one platform whereby individuals can connect with colleagues, other businesses or professionals. Below, we consider what factors you should consider when faced with an action for inappropriate Twitter comments.

Grounds For a Fair Dismissal

An employer may be able to fire an employee for inappropriate behaviour at the office, but do they have the same powers for activities outside of work? The short answer is yes and even though there is no particular law or set of regulations on social media use for employees, there are some factors that strengthen an employer’s case for dismissing employees fairly, including:

  • Did The Behaviour Offend Company Policy?

If your Twitter comment has offended one of the policies your employer created or follows, they will have legitimate grounds to dismiss you. It may be a provision that makes up part of your company’s general policy, employee handbook or comes from a protocol that specifically regulates social media behaviour.

For example, SBS dismissed former sports reporter Scott McIntryre following an inappropriate Twitter comment. Mr McIntyre breached the SBS Code of Conduct and social media policy that gave his employer the grounds to terminate his position immediately even though his comment was about currents affairs as opposed to sports.

  • Did The Twitter Comment Damage The Employer’s Reputation?

Another argument that supports an employer’s decision to fire an employee for an inappropriate Twitter comment depends on whether it damaged the company’s reputation. After all, a company’s reputation is one of its most valuable assets.

  • Was The Comment Highly Offensive?

Did the post contain racist comments or indecent language, or was it highly critical of the employer, managers or staff in the employee’s business? If it was, this might be another valid ground for dismissal.

  • Can The Comment Be Read By Other Members Of The Business?

If other employees, customers or the employer themselves read the comments made on Twitter, then it could be another consideration that supports your company’s decision to terminate your employment. On the other hand, if it was a private comment that only a small number of people could view, the damage is arguably more contained.

Don’t Risk It

Not only is social media a challenge for employees, but it could also affect your prospects as a job seeker. Carefully considering what you post on social media as a professional is important, as it’s now easy for prospective employees to perform a quick Google search of your social media profiles to see what sort of person you are.

Tips For Employees

If you are unsure whether posting your comment falls foul of your business’ social media policy, don’t post it – it’s better to be safe than sorry. As such, you should conduct a social media audit and ensure the following:

  • Ensure the highest privacy settings protect all your personal information;
  • Be aware that once you post your comment online, it is publically accessible;
  • Never make a comment that is derogatory, rude, or could be found to be insulting in any way by past employers, current employers, colleagues and other people in your professional life;
  • Be vigilant regarding what others are tagging you in on Twitter or other social platforms; and
  • Perform regular checks on Google by typing your name into the search engine.

Tips For Employers

Although you may have the option to dismiss employees for inappropriate comments on social media, it is worthwhile listening to these concerns to see whether they have any merit. After all, your business will be more successful if you have happy employees and open communication channels. You should also:

  1. Have a clear social media policy;
  1. Provide regular training sessions for acceptable social media activity; and
  1. Ensure the managers/supervisors are role models of best practice.

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In short, try to keep your professional and personal life separate online and refrain from posting comments that could affect your employment. If you have any questions about your workplace’s social media policy or an employer and need assistance with drafting, get in touch with our employment lawyers on 1300 544 755.

Annie Gunn

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