Social media infringes on every aspect of our lives, often blurring the line between private individual and employee. Posting from a private account does not guarantee either anonymity or job security.   

A recent high-profile dispute arose between journalist, Clementine Ford, and a man employed by the Meriton Group as a supervisor at Meriton Apartments.

This man commented on an article that was written by Ms Ford with the word “slut”.  The employee’s Facebook page also contained several public posts which were racist and otherwise offensive. Ms Ford alerted the Meriton Group to this employee’s posts and comments, and his employer subsequently terminated his employment. The facts of this case contain some important lessons for employees and employers to take on board. 

Employees, Don’t Vent Your Frustrations About Your Boss on Social Media

This concept is not new. Employers have legally dismissed their employees for bringing their employer into disrepute. It is standard in most employment contracts to require an employee to act in the business’ best interests and to refrain from taking action which would damage their employer’s reputation. In this instance, the employee was not helping Meriton Apartment’s brand through his vulgarity on Facebook.

Don’t Divulge any Confidential Information

It is all too easy to forget that a much wider audience can view your posts online, even when made in your personal capacity. If a disgruntled employee makes comments online about their employer’s confidential practices (e.g. their refusal to give a pay rise) or reveals information about clients (e.g. posting pictures about certain products), then an employer is likely to have strong ground for termination.

Ignorance of Technology is Not An Excuse

Individuals have previously argued that their ignorance as to how social media works saw them post to a public audience. As technology becomes increasingly more understood, and employers begin educating employees on acceptable use, this defence is likely to disappear. It’s important then for employers to ensure that their policies explicitly instruct employees how to change their social media account’s privacy settings.

Think Ahead

It’s not just your current employer who can view your profile, but also potential employers and clients. Remember that once information you have published content online, it ‘s hard to remove entirely. Comments or photos which seem sensible to share now may look less impressive to a prospective employer in several years. A good rule of thumb is that if you want to let off steam or unwind after a stressful day, don’t log on to social media.

Employers, Introduce a Social Media Policy

It is important that Employers set out their expectations for employee social media use in a social media policy. Employers should cover not only what is acceptable and unacceptable at work, but also provide some coverage on private use. Although employers cannot dictate what their employees do outside of work, they can make clear rules about behaviour that would reflect poorly on the business.

Provide Training

You need to be able to demonstrate that all your employees have been made aware of your policies and given guidance on how to implement the rules, both in and outside work. Also, ensure that someone either in or for your organisation is keeping track of how your employees are using the technology that is now available to them.

Make Sure That You Update Policies and Training

It’s not enough to draft a comprehensive policy and then forget about it. You should constantly revisit, review and update your policy. Social Media and Twitter may be popular now, but content is rapidly evolving, and out-of-date policies won’t assist you if they do not address relevant information.

Key Takeaways

Although continuing developments in tech can seem unfamiliar, many of the problems employers and employee experience are not new. They simply present themselves differently. For example, upset employees voicing their frustrations in an open forum is hardly uncommon. But it was typically a bar or coffee shop, rather than social media. Reinforcing employee obligations such as respecting confidentiality and implementing complaint and grievance procedures are more cost effective than defending unfair dismissal or adverse action proceedings.

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Navigating through social media can be a minefield and both employees and employers should proceed with caution. Questions? Let our employment lawyers know of 1300 544 755.

Lachlan McKnight

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