Social media & workplace discrimination

As social media increasingly permeates our lives, the lines between “personal” and “professional”, “private” and “public” have become blurred. A person’s right to freedom of expression may be perceived as inappropriate conduct by their employer or coworker. This can be harmful to a brand, reputation and business relationship, and people can lose their jobs.

The Australian Human Rights Commission website warns employers that social media postings can be against the law if they discriminate against, harass, bully or racially vilify a person.

“Employers can be held legally responsible for acts of discrimination or harassment that occur in the workplace or in connection with a person’s employment. This can include posts and comments made or circulated on social media. To minimise their liability, employers need to demonstrate that they have taken all reasonable steps to prevent discrimination or harassment from occurring in their workplaces.” ~ Australian Human Rights Commission

In the case of Little v Credit Corp Group Limited t/as Credit Corp Group [2013] FWC 9642, Mr. Little used his personal Facebook account to criticise a professional associate of his employer, and to make sexual comments about a new employee. This was a breach of the employer’s policy on appropriate social media conduct. Mr. Little was aware of and had received training about the policy. The termination of Mr. Little’s employment for misuse of social media in breach of the policy was held to be valid.

Sometimes social media works in the employer’s favour. This good news story about an employee taking a mental health day went viral. Good to see top management sending a clear message to their employees, encouraging a mentally healthy workplace. In this case, the use of social media resulted in good press for the company. Interesting though, how rapidly the contents of an internal company email went viral via Twitter. Damaging comments about employers, employees or coworkers can go just as viral, with potentially disastrous consequences.

Employers can manage the risk of workplace disputes and claims of harassment or discrimination by educating their staff on appropriate conduct on social media. This should include policies and training addressing discrimination and harassment in the use of social media. It is also wise to include policies and discussions around organizational values and avoiding reputational damage.

Read about respect & responsibility in the workplace >

If you receive a verbal or written workplace grievance or complaint about discrimination or harassment on social media, you are obliged to investigate the issue. Whether the investigation is conducted internally or externally, it must adhere to natural justice principles, confidentiality, rules of evidence, legal and policy compliance, and health and safety regulations. These standards help to ensure a fair and equitable process for all and allow your organisation to respond with the appropriate action.

WorkPlacePLUS has a team of experienced certified private investigators who provide independent workplace investigations of the highest standard. We assist in mitigating an employer’s obligations under various legislation such as Fair Work Act and Work, Health & Safety, while you continue to focus on business as usual. We value continuous improvement, so we also provide follow-up support to implement recommendations and restore harmony and productivity.

For more information, please contact us today.

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