Social media hazards in and out of the workplace
Given the current role social media plays in both an individual’s and a business’ life, the line between employee conduct at work and home is increasingly being blurred.
Employees’ out-of-hours conduct can be hazardous for employers, as social media gives them easy access to cause considerable reputational, physical or emotional damage to the business or their colleagues.
CCIQ employer assistance experts have seen many cases before the commission where social media evidence was relied upon as the reason for dismissal, and the numbers are growing.
Employee rants on social media -- O'Keefe v William T/A Troy Williams The Good Guys 
An employee published a Facebook status update directed at the payroll department of his employer, The Good Guys. His status was littered with profanities, and came as a result of him being paid the incorrect wages; ”wonders how the f**k work can be so f**king useless and mess my pay up again.” He also used other foul language.
He did this on his home computer, outside of work hours and did not mention his employers name at all. However, the company’s employee handbook states the need to be courteous and polite to colleagues and customers.
Although the employee claimed he had blocked the payroll manager from seeing his status, there were still 11 other co-workers who could read the post. This constituted a breach of the company’s policy.
The dismissal for serious misconduct was upheld by the Commission.
Social media protects employers interests -- Pearson v Linfox Australia Pty Ltd 
Linfox Australia Pty Ltd have a number of workplace policies regarding absenteeism, mobile phone use, social media and health and safety.
The employee in this case was issued with a number of written and verbal warnings and ultimately dismissed for his refusal to acknowledge and comply with his employers workplace policies.
Of particular concern, rather than a signing an acknowledgement to the social media policy, which stated: “I (named) have read and understand the Linfox social media policy”, the employee crossed out the work ‘understand’ and in the space for his signature he wrote ‘refuse to sign’.
The employee argued to the Commission that he refused to sign the social media policy because it applied outside of work hours and “as Linfox do not pay me or control my life outside of my working hours, they cannot tell me what to do or say outside of work, that is basic human rights on freedom of speech”
Commissioner David Gregory held that the dismissal was not harsh, unjust or unreasonable given the repeated policy breaches. Commissioner Gregory made the below statement on the importance of a social media policy in a workplace;
“the establishment of a social media policy is clearly a legitimate exercise in acting to protect the reputation and security of a business… It also serves a useful purpose by making clear to employees what is expected of them. Gone is the time (if it ever existed) where an employee might claim posts on social media are intended to be for private consumption only. An employer is also entitled to have a policy in place making clear excessive use of social media at work may have consequences for employees… it is difficult to see how a social media policy designed to protect an employer's reputation and security of the business could operate in an 'at work' context only.”
In another case, two employees were fired and fined after posting dangerous ‘planking’ act on social media
Two men were dismissed from their positions as they photographed each other ‘planking’, one on top of a spray booth four metres off the ground and the other across the tyres of a forklift at a similar height.
The photographs were uploaded to social media.
The pair admitted guilt and did not submit an unfair dismissal claim, however they were both prosecuted and charged fines of $1500 each by WorkSafe Victoria.
If you do not already have a social media policy operating within your business and you are wondering if you really need one, let the above cases guide your decision.
If you find yourself in a position where you need to discipline or dismiss an employee based on their out-of-hours conduct on social media, you will need an up-to-date social media policy to assist you to deal with an issue.
To assist you, a few things you should consider when creating and implementing a social media policy:
- Cleary define what constitutes social media (Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, blogs and forums)
- Clearly state the purpose/objective of the policy
- Clearly set out what behaviour is undesirable/unacceptable (bullying, discriminatory or harassing conduct)
- Clearly state the consequences for breaching the policy, and are those consequences linked to a disciplinary procedure/termination policy?
- Establish communication channels and a procedure to obtain authority regarding social media use or making a complaint
- Arrange training sessions for your employees and ensure they are regularly retrained on the policy
- Monitor social media usage and enforce the terms of the policy in a consistent and fair manner.
CCIQ have developed a range of HR manuals, guides and specific social media policy templates to assist Queensland businesses. Visit the CCIQ Bookstore.
The Employer Assistance Team are available on 130 731 988 or firstname.lastname@example.org and can assist you to understand what is required in your policy and what is best practice when it comes to implementation.
DISCLAIMER: This document is an information source only. Despite our best efforts, CCIQ makes no statements, representations or warranties about the accuracy or completeness of the information and disclaims responsibility for all liability for all loss or damage you might incur as a result of the information being inaccurate or incomplete in any way, and for any reason. The information contained in this document is not intended to be nor should it be relied upon as a substitute for legal or other professional advice.