TMI on Social Media

In getting this blog started, I wanted to touch on an area that affects our lives more than we’d care to admit. That of course is our presence on social media. This is quite topical for me at the moment, as a friend’s former partner recently decided to slander him on social network sites. I’ll get to that in a bit more detail in my next blog post.

We’re all encouraged to use social media to communicate with friends and family, but also to spread the word about our work and business. So where exactly do you get in to trouble and just how far is too far?

Being from a predominantly industrial relations work background I’d like to begin by addressing the all-too-common habit of venting on social media about our work lives. We all have bad days but there is a line that people need to avoid crossing when unleashing about just what they think of their employer.

The average person would understandably believe that what they say in the privacy of their own homes from their own computer would be protected and safe. After all, when you get home you are meant to be disconnected from your employer. There are no more OH&S obligations for your boss as soon as you walk through your front door, so you can do what you want right?

If the decision of Fair Work Australia’s Deputy President Swan is anything to go by in the matter of  O’Keefe v William Muir’s Pty Ltd T/A Troy Williams The Good Guys[2011] FWA 5311, then no, you really can’t say whatever you want.

In this case, an employee posted quite explicitly offensive comments on Facebook that were of an insulting and threatening nature, about his employer, from his personal computer. While the employee didn’t name his employer or the person being threatened, he did have co-workers in his friends list who could quite easily view the comments. He was dismissed from his employment for serious misconduct.

Key points that were considered during the hearing were whether or not the dismissal was harsh, unjust or unreasonable per the legislation (Fair Work Act 2009).

Deputy President Swan dismissed the claim by the employee for unfair dismissal. She found that the actions taken did, in fact, constitute serious misconduct and reasonable grounds for dismissal. The Deputy President held that it did not matter that the Facebook post was made on a personal computer outside of business hours. The comments he made were offensive and of a threatening nature, and making a threat against a co-worker cannot be tolerated. The Deputy President found that the employee could raise any concerns he may have had with the Fair Work Ombudsman instead of his chosen option of venting on social media, which could be viewed by fellow co-workers. . In the Deputy President’s view the complainant’s decision to make the offending statement where it could be accessed by co-workers was the deciding factor in her finding the dismissal was indeed reasonable.

Next up we’ll deal with possible defamatory statements made on social media and what the consequences could be for the offending party, and what steps you can take if you are wronged.

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