Business Advice

“Just f-ing bash them”: Nurse stood down over Facebook rant, prompting warnings on social media policies

Emma Koehn /

A Western Australian nurse has reportedly been stood down from his role at the state’s country health service after posting an aggressive Facebook rant about local indigenous children.

News.com.au reports the Broome employee posted a series of expletive-filled messages in a community Facebook group last week. He complained about children breaking into local homes in the area, writing “just [email protected]$king bash them within an inch of their useless worthless lives, they are nothing more than rats or cockroaches”.

After receiving backlash within the group, the man asked the moderators of the group to publish an apology, saying he was intoxicated when making the remarks and they were in no way affiliated with his employer.

In a statement provided to SmartCompany, WA Country Health Service (WACHS) chief executive Jeff Moffet said senior staff had been made aware of the nurse’s posts on Saturday, and he had been stood down pending an investigation.

“Action was immediately taken by the WACHS Kimberley Regional Director to stand down the staff member pending an investigation. These comments contradict the views and values of the WA Country Health Service…WACHS strongly values our connection with Aboriginal communities across the State. All staff are bound by the WA Health Code of Conduct and any breaches of this policy may result in disciplinary action,” he said.

Legal experts have told SmartCompany over the past few years that a clear social media policy is key for employers, given the lines are increasingly blurring about what social media commentary affects the workplace, and what does not.

The Australian public service developed a comprehensive blueprint for staff social media use in August, including warnings about what kinds of posts staff could “like” on Facebook and what emojis they could use.

Managing director of Workplace Law, Athena Koelmeyer, says the WA Country Health situation demonstrates how an employer may view comments as a breach of a code of conduct even if social media commentary doesn’t directly reference an employer.

“If you are, for example, a disability or aged care services provider, you really don’t want people expressing views about disabled people or elderly people that would be contrary to your purpose,” she says. 

She recommends businesses think about whether they are adequately warning staff not to post materials that undermine the overall purpose of the organisation.

That’s something that people’s social media policies should contemplate,” she says. 

The staff member could not be contacted for comment this morning.

Trust and confidence play a role

Concerns about what employees in areas like health care put on social media are important because they can relate to the “implied terms” of an employment contract, says Koelmeyer.

This means that even beyond social media policies for staff, there is an understanding that when a worker comes to an organisation, “that you must always act in the employer’s best interests”, she says.

Regardless of a social media policy, it should be expected that there is “good faith and fidelity, trust and confidence” between a staff member and their organisation, Koelmeyer says — but making the terms of acceptable behaviour clear makes things easier if warnings do need to be issued about social media posts. 

You would need to make sure you follow rules of procedural fairness [when investigating concerning posts], either by sitting down with them or putting things in writing and asking for an employee’s response. In some cases you are going to get a mortified response [from an employee], in other cases you might get a forthright response. But first thing is to hear their response and then work out how much damage has been done.”

The end of year can be prime time for employees being tired and engaging in alcohol-fueled events like staff Christmas parties — but employees must be warned that all their social media use must adhere to company policies, regardless of when it is posted, Koelmeyer says.

“The mantra has to be ‘work rules always apply’. If you wouldn’t say something to someone in the tea room, don’t say it [online].”

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is SmartCompany's senior journalist.

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