Social media is a fun and useful way of staying in touch with friends and family, meeting new people or keeping up with current affairs. It can also provide a very public look into our private lives and this can sometimes result in problems with employers that could end in disciplinary action, including termination of employment.
So, how exactly can an employer prevent you from posting something they don’t agree with on social media and what can they do about it after the fact?
What measures can employers take to protect themselves?
Most employers will have social media policies they ask their employees to adhere to. You may even have a social media usage clause written into your contract or be asked to sign a separate agreement.
While you may not be asked to refrain from using social media altogether, it is likely that in such a policy or agreement, it will be expected that you will conduct yourself in a manner that is consistent with the requirements of your role and the image of the organisation.
It is within the employer’s rights to require that their employees do not do anything that might damage the organisation’s image or business prospects and, ultimately, misconduct in this area can serve as a legitimate reason to terminate someone’s employment.
Since employers simply do not have the time to monitor their staff’s social media accounts, they may also choose to be on the front foot and provide education and training on social media, and how improper use might negatively impact their careers. This type of training would be particularly useful for graduate-level or junior staff.
One way for an employer to approach this from a positive angle is by helping staff set up LinkedIn and professional twitter accounts so that they have a work-related platform on which to tweet articles, insights and posts on the corporate social responsibility initiatives of their organisation.
When disciplining workers who may have expressed personal views on a public platform, employers should be careful not to breach the Fair Work Act, which prohibits adverse action against a worker because of their political opinion, a legally protected attribute.
If an employee is found to have been unfairly dismissed on these grounds, they may be forced to pay compensation and/or reinstate the employee. However, if the employee’s conduct in expressing that political opinion was unnecessarily offensive or otherwise breached the employer’s policies or social media agreement, the employer may be able to prove that disciplinary action was taken due to the offensive behaviour and not their political opinion. A determination will depend on each case’s individual details.
What can the misuse of social media mean for your employer?
In recent years we have seen high-profile cases, including those involving Israel Folau and Alan Jones, whose comments on various issues have seen backlash against their employers, and millions of dollars’ worth of sponsorships pulled by organisations who no longer wanted to be associated with the brands who they worked for.
While you may believe your comments will not have such a drastic financial or reputational effect on your employer, grassroots campaigns have sparked on Facebook and Twitter, with other users banding together to track down the employers of individuals who make offensive posts to report them and call for their dismissal.
Conducting yourself on social media – what is acceptable and what could get you fired
It is never a wise idea to ‘bad mouth’ your employer or colleagues on social media. If you have had a bad day at work, try venting to a friend or family member, or if something more serious has happened, such as bullying, harassment or intimidation, alert a member of the HR team or record the incident, date and time in case you need to rely upon it later on.
While the law in this area may not be set in stone just yet, your best bet is to always maintain a professional persona online. By refraining from making tactless or hurtful comments or tagging colleagues in inappropriate posts you can be sure you will never be disciplined for contravening your employer’s social media policy or agreement.
If you have had your employment terminated due to a social media issue and you need to seek advice, contact one of our HR consultants today.