Angela Boyd, Edney Ryan Legal

Employers are entitled to discipline employees for certain out-of-hours conduct.

Social media has changed our communication norms. Whilst sometimes these communications resemble ‘word of mouth’ conversations, they are set out in written form, in many cases for the world (and employers) to see.

Social media interactions made outside work on personal accounts can have a significant impact on the employment relationship, possibly leading to disciplinary action, and even dismissal.  Here we highlight some examples, which should serve as a warning to employees.

  1. Hotel Employee Dismissed for Offensive Facebook Comments

An hotel employee posted offensive comments about a journalist, to the journalist’s Facebook page. The employee had his hotel employer listed on his Facebook profile. When his employer became aware of the social media comments, he lost his job even though the comments were completely unrelated to his role at the hotel.

  1. Twitter Response from University Professor Leads to Suspension

A University professor responded to a student’s Tweet on his own personal Twitter account. There was nothing on his Twitter account which identified him as being associated with or employed by the University. Despite this he was suspended without pay by the University for making offensive/ disrespectful/ threatening comments which had the potential to damage the reputation of the University.

  1. Centrelink Employee Disciplined for Social Media Comments about Customers

A Centrelink employee with over 20 years of service, made offensive comments about Centrelink customers on social media, and was consequently dismissed. The Fair Work Commission found that the employee had breached relevant workplace policies by making inappropriate social media comments. The Commission found that there was a valid reason for the dismissal, however in the particular circumstances considered the dismissal harsh and disproportionate to the employee’s conduct given his record and length of service. The Commission was of the view that the misconduct was worthy of a lesser but still significant disciplinary response.

  1. Defriending on Facebook Considered Workplace Bullying

A real-estate employee alleged that she had been bullied at work and filed a bullying application before the Fair Work Commission. She alleged that a co-worker didn’t perform administrative tasks for her, treated her differently by not greeting her in the morning or delivering her photocopying to her (where it was usually done for other staff members), ignoring her, making unreasonable comments, and deleting the employee as a Facebook ‘friend’ after a workplace altercation. The Commission found that several of the behaviours which the employee raised in her application, including the Facebook de-friending, were bullying behaviours.

These few examples demonstrate the dangers of social media behaviour on workplace relationships, even when communication is made on personal accounts and outside of work hours. Employees should be reminded that if their behaviour off-the-clock is considered to be inappropriate, offensive or in breach of workplace policies, they could be disciplined or even dismissed by their employer.

If you are an employee or employer with concerns about any aspect of employment law, please give us a call to discuss further.