Business and Employees - the Social Networking Question.

Posted on 17 June 2011

Have you considered whether social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter could have a detrimental effect on your business?

Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter have become more and more popular over recent years. And if you haven't already, you need to establish guidelines for your employees about how they should - and should not - be using them.  By putting together a social networking policy, you can inform your employees exactly what they can and can't do online and train them about what is appropriate usage and what isn't.

Your social networking policy should: 

  1. Define "social networking".
  2. Inform employees what is not acceptable social networking behaviour.
  3. Inform employees what is acceptable social networking behavior.
  4. Remind your employees' that they have a responsibility to protect the Company’s confidential information.
  5. Clearly set out the consequences for violating the policy.
  6. Clearly set out the process by which employees will be disciplined if they breach the policy. 

Stop!

Before taking any action against an employee that violates the policy we recommend that you obtain legal advice. The following are just two cases that highlight the need to take care when disciplining employees when they comment about their employment on a social networking site.

Fitzgerald v Escape Hair Design (2010 FWA 7358), a case involving a Hair Salon that dismissed a hairdresser for, among other things, posting a comment on Facebook about receiving a job warning and no holiday pay. The comment was accessible to clients of the business. Fair Work Australia found that the comment did not damage the salon’s business and because the employer remained silent after becoming aware of the comment, which subsequently remained on the page for 2 weeks, the employment relationship was not irreparably damaged. Accordingly Fair Work Australia order that the dismissal was harsh, unjust and unreasonable and awarded Ms Fitzgerald $2,340.48 (gross) compensation. The matter has since been appealed by the Employer


In Dover-Ray v Real Insurance (2010 FWA 8544), FWA ruled that the publishing on a blog of a disparaging comment regarding the employer justified the dismissal of the employee because it was publicly accessible through a search engine and attacked the integrity of the management of the employer. This case highlights the importance of developing and implementing appropriate policies covering employees’ on-line conduct outside of working hours as well as during their employment.

What should you do?

If you're not sure what action you would take, you're not alone.

It is becoming increasingly common for employees to post complaints about their employers, working conditions, and co-workers on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. With the increase in bullying in the workplace including cyber bullying an Employer’s responsibility under OHS and discrimination laws can extend the reasons to regulate the social media usage of employees.

Disciplining an employee who makes a statement about the Company on social network sites should be approached with caution. Dismissing the employee without careful consideration and advice may result in a claim of unfair dismissal, general protections or discrimination. It is important to ensure that that the ‘punishment fits the crime’ and that there is no other hidden agenda for the disciplinary action.


Unsure about how to proceed? Contact us to discuss

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