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 relationships, and people can lose their jobs.
It is no longer unusual to see media reports of cases where employees are dismissed or forced to resign because of comments or images they posted on their personal social media accounts. Employees typically risk getting into trouble when they
post offensive, inappropriate or defamatory comments
post controversial or extreme opinions or images
tell work they are sick then post photos of their big night out
Does your workplace have a social media policy?
Employers who take a strict stance on social media conduct may find themselves facing a legal dispute if they don’t have the proper policies and contractual clauses in place.
By now, every employer should have an up-to-date social media policy. Review your social media policy regularly, to make sure it stays relevant to today’s online culture, which is perpetually and rapidly evolving.
Social media and workplace discrimination
Social media posts can be against the law if they harass, bully, racially vilify or discriminate against someone.
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  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 organisational values and avoiding reputational damage.
How do you know whether or not a serious breach has occurred?
If you receive a verbal or written workplace grievance, complaint or allegation regarding an employee’s social media conduct, you are obliged to investigate the issue to find out what happened and determine whether a breach has occurred.
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 Workplace, 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.