Legal, Social Media

Company owner defends decision to fire worker over same-sex marriage views, despite the risk to her “business and integrity”

Emma Koehn /

Marriage equality rally

Supporters of marriage equality at a rally in Sydney in August 2016. Source: AAP/NEWZULU/Richard Milnes

A legal expert has warned businesses to ensure they write down and communicate social media policies, following a Canberra business operator’s decision to end an employment relationship with a contractor after she posted views opposing the legalisation of same-sex marriage on Facebook.

The ABC reports the contractor says she was “in complete shock” after she was let go from her role as a children’s entertainer for Canberra party business Capital Kids Parties because she had uploaded a Facebook filter over her profile picture on August 29, stating it was “ok to vote no” in the current marriage equality postal vote.

The employer has stated her own position on the case, which has since blown up on social media, explaining via a Facebook post that she views voting no in the postal survey as homophobic, and something that could have negative implications for the reputation of her business.

The employer, Madelin Sims, said on social media that there were “prior conversations” that led to the dismissal of the worker, and told the ABC that when the Facebook filter was noticed, her younger brother, who was friends with the worker, asked her to remove it from her profile.

Sims claims the worker refused and was aggressive towards her brother, explaining to the ABC’s Hack program that while the worker’s support for the “No” campaign was subtle, she won’t tolerate any such views from employees.

In a further post on Facebook yesterday, Sims said she “risked my business and my integrity doing this but I don’t really give a shit because I can wake up tomorrow and marry any bloke I want”.

SmartCompany contacted Sims and her business a number of times this morning but did not receive a response for further comment prior to publication.

SmartCompany was unable to contact the employee for comment. However, in an interview with Andrew Bolt, the worker said she’s still “sitting on” a decision about whether to take further action.

Social media policies critical

Managing director of Workplace Law Athena Koelmeyer says in general, there are several things employers must keep in mind before dismissing a staff member for their personal views on political issues.

“It’s about making sure you make it clear to employees as to what is and isn’t acceptable on social media, and the other thing is [being aware of] adverse actions, because people are entitled to their opinions,” she says. 

Businesses should take care on these issues because there is a potential that a worker could bring an adverse action claim against a business if they believe their personal beliefs were the cause of a dismissal. If that is found to be the case, it could breach the worker’s protections under the Fair Work Act, Koelmeyer says.

However, employers do have scope to limit what their employees write or communicate in public forums, including on their personal social media accounts, she says.

That’s where the clear social media policy comes into play,” Koelmeyer says.  

Employers should ensure they have outlined and communicated to their employees what they can and can’t share online. There could be some cases in which the personal communications of workers come into conflict with how a business operates or its reputation, Koelmeyer says, but it is critical these areas are expressed in a clear policy.

For people working for all kinds of organisations, they could want to make sure their employees either say nothing or meet a line,” she says. 

“People are entitled to their views, it’s just whether they’re allowed to express these in a public forum.”

Businesses could find themselves facing future disputes if they make decisions based on their workers’ political beliefs, Koelmeyer says. However, the communication of these beliefs could breach workplace policy if the company has a “nice, clear social media policy” in place, she says. 

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is SmartCompany's senior journalist.

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FROM AROUND THE WEB

  • bezbox

    I support marriage equality – but there is no way I support a business sacking someone for their personal opinion. I can’t believe there hasn’t been more uproar about such poor work practice by this company! Surely this is some sort of discrimination?

    • This woman has done exactly what she says she hates…discriminate. what a woeful show of intolerance. This whole issue is totally out of hand. And in all this there is no mention of God, the saddest omission of all.

      • Krayal

        That’s because God is irrelevant to marriage.

        • That comment is steeped in ignorance. God is the basis for marriage. Read your Bible and understand that marriage is a God given decree! Where do you think the concept of marriage came from? The more the world rejects God and sees Him as irrelevant, the darker and more sinister this world becomes. Try to wipe away evidence of God, relieve yourself of any accountability and see where you end up.

          • Krayal

            Pair bonding has existed way before Christianity. Factual observations are not ‘ignorant’.

          • That’s the prob with this discussion….derailed by irrlevancies. You can bond but it doesn’t have to result in marriage, the 2 are separate entities. Like saying marriage equality….you can be diff yet still equal…terms that are manipulated for convenience yet have nothing to do with core issues. Btw God proceeds Christianity He created us. That’s what I mean about plucking out elements and using them to your convenience…look at the whole picture

      • Krayal

        Besides why is there this obsession that all views are worth tolerating?

        There are people out there who think it’s ok to drown puppies, and beat their children.

        Why are people like you so desperate to excuse other people who are just terrible human beings?

    • Krayal

      Not really. The person posted something homophobic in public, potentially bringing the company into disrepute. People are sacked for what they post on social media all the time.

      • bezbox

        You are a crack up Krayal! We are talking about a postal vote to which one can respond Yes or No. She posted she was going to respond No. It is an opinion – just like mine to respond Yes. This is not homophobic, no matter how you want to realign the meaning of it. And you making a bunch of slanted comments on this site really doesn’t help the Yes cause.

  • Robert M

    I’m a little confused. The article states early in the piece ‘end an employment relationship with a contractor after she posted…..’. Was the person a contractor or an employee? Surely if it was a contractor we wouldn’t be having this article.

    • Rohan Baker

      An employment agreement is a contract.

      • Robert M

        Maybe it is but is a contractor an employee? I would have thought that a contractual relationship with a contractor would be different from an employment relationship with an employee (formalised with a contract).

  • Rohan Baker

    Extraordinary. You can now be fired for answering and expressing a political opinion that has been democratically put to the people by a duly elected government.

    We are now in very dangerous territory, where free speech is tolerated only if you agree with one narrow perspective. This intolerant woman needs to understand the true origins of fascism in Europe during the late 1920’s and early 1930’s.

    And the kicker at the bottom of the article is that you need a well defined social media policy? Get real. Freedom of political speech, or religious association is not considered a condition of employment, so is irrelevant. They are protected under the FWA act.

    • Krayal

      If you openly express views that could cost your company money of course you might get fired. That’s common sense.

    • Krayal

      Would you support this person if they posted a racist tweet?

      • bunni88

        Yes. I have been called coon and ni**er and people have the right to say it. But I have learned as I have grown up that the less I respond to it, the less I hear it. I only respond to my name and ms.

        • Krayal

          I really think you wouldn’t. I think you are lying to make a point.

          Hardly anyone would quibble with the idea of an openly racist employee being fired. The difference in this case is that some forms of discrimination are socially acceptable.

          • bunni88

            No one is saying that you have to respect them and no one is saying that you have to agree but no one should lose their job because they don’t believe the same as someone else or think the same as someone else. There are people who do not believe that black and white people should be able to marry. But no one cares because people’s marry who they want. The world does not revolve around one thought or one identity. People are free to believe and think as they choose.

          • Krayal

            Thing is, there are (now) no laws banning inter-racial marriage. I couldn’t give a toss if someone is anti equal marriage in their own home. Supporting laws that prevent gay people having the same rights as everyone else is what makes it discriminatory.

          • Krayal

            Thing is, there are (now) no laws banning inter-racial marriage. I couldn’t give a toss if someone is anti equal marriage in their own home. Supporting laws that prevent gay people having the same rights as everyone else is what makes it discriminatory.

  • skris88

    Be prepared for a lot more of this sort of hateful behaviour by those who believe in redefining marriage.

    We’re changing the marriage licence law affecting all 24,000,000 Australians for the benefit the just 100,000 or so Australians born with a same-sex attraction disability – in the name of “equality”.

    Next we will change the law to give normal (not self drive) car licences to blind people – who are much more deserving of equality.

    The SSM “equality” argument is so stupid it’s crazy we’re even having a vote. How can two men or two woman ever be equal to one man and one woman? They can have sex all they want but will never (not “may not”) be able to conceive a child together. And what about the 1,000s of male female couples who cannot conceive a child naturally? This is a slap in their faces – and their voices haven’t had any media focus.

    Lastly same sex couples have EXACTLY the same rights as opposite sex de facto couples.

    This is an assult on traditional religious values, no more, no less.

    This country was founded on solid Judeo Christian values. We chuck them out to our detriment.

    Vote NO.

  • Ed Shyed

    open your eyes Rohan, its just as easy for the church to deny or terminate employment if they are of a persuasion they disagree with, just as easy as teh church doesnt want to marry someone whos gay, and my opinion is then that church should loose its licence to perform such ceremonies, marriage is a STATE issue, religion got into it only because the church put it there, the got didn’t, there is no law or Act or condition of their licence that says they have to, therefor it is optional they chose to insert it.

    All discrimination should end, but whats good for the goose is good for its gander when it comes to discriminating,or does the church think its the only one who can discriminate?

    I commend this employer from taking this stand

    Religion is a dying form anyway.

    • R R

      You can’t compare a religious belief system with corporate law. And to simplistically say that marriage is a State issue just exposes your misunderstanding of 2000 or more years of religious beliefs from all persuasions such as Judeo-Christian, Islam, Hindu, Buddhism etc.

  • Colin Spencer

    Better off not working for a bigoted employer. Move on, or better still, get a job with one of their competitors, and work your backside off to take as much business from your former employer as possible.

    • Krayal

      You think being pro equal marriage is bigoted? Are we in opposite land?

      • bunni88

        The definition of Bigot-a person who is intolerant toward those holding different opinions.

        So yes, this employer was bigoted. Know the definition of the word you use before using it.

        • Krayal

          Not all views are worth respecting.

  • Colin Spencer

    A fair definition of tolerance:

    I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to
    the death your right to say it.

    Evelyn Beatrice Hall

  • Colin Spencer

    A fair definition of tolerance:

    I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to
    the death your right to say it.

    Evelyn Beatrice Hall

  • Annette Scott

    So, in the interests of equality, does that mean if an employee posts on their social media that they support a ‘yes’ vote, that they could be in peril of losing their job if their employer doesn’t agree with the ‘yes’ agenda?

    • Krayal

      Well being pro equal marriage isn’t homophobic. And any employee stupid enough to double down when their employer warns them their job is at risk deserves to be fired imo.

  • absolutelyconcerned

    So when all the votes come in all those who vote “no” are considered homophobic? And there’s something wrong with being homophobic?
    Definition: perversion
    1 the alteration of something from its original course, meaning, or state to a distortion or corruption of what was first intended 2 sexual behavior or desire that is considered abnormal or unacceptable
    Isn’t it a personal right to resist the cultural indoctrination that tries to force us to accept homosexuality as being “normal”. In terms of free speech anyone has the right to resist the normalization of perversion, acceptance of anything goes sex and now this new twisted trans gender “freakism”. For example this trans issue: why should society be forced to accommodate the delusions of psychologically unfit individuals who don’t accept the biological reality of their gender they were born into, and to which their chromosomal configuration and anatomical sex organs undeniably attests. Rather, its now called on society at large to participate in thier schizophrenic-driven reality ? i.e. where we have freaks fantasizing that their sex preference – based on thier “feeling of gender” – is somehow based in biological fact. Girl-in-a-boy’s body/boy-in-a-girl’s body – what a crock. Research shows the only biological chromosomal situation that could ever apply would be sex chromosome abnormalities such as Turner and Triple-X Syndrome among females and Klinefelter syndrome among men.

  • Justin Tyme

    This travesty is a Direct consequence of The irrational push to recognise The existance of other than MALE and female persons as gender being of our species. Yes there Are others but that does not mean The system must discriminate in their favor. Be Aware, more of such rubbish to come.

  • absolutelyconcerned

    Incredible …….. this site is deleting comments at will. Why? Care to tell you readers why my comment was deleted?? Re-post my comment and annotate your reasons for deleting it.

  • haydn

    So do we take it Workplace Law MD Athena Koelmeyer doesn’t actually believe in free speech? Saying an employer can have a policy concerning politics that ensures the employee says either nothing or meet a line is the ultimate in political censorship. Are these employers then going to start then dictating who to vote for?

    • Krayal

      You don’t know what free speech is. Free speech laws apply to the idea that the government isn’t allowed to censor you.

      In this particular case, the employee engaged in hate speech, and potentially brought the company into disrepute. Her publicly expressed homophobic views could have cost the company money.

      The employee also doubled down when warned. Of course they were fired.

      • bunni88

        There’s no such thing as hate speech. Hate to break it to you. I can say Catholics are silly and it would hurt a few feelings but many would get over it. Those with hurt feelings would scream hate speech. Hurt feelings is not hate speech.

        • Krayal

          The law disagrees with you.

          Also, saying Catholics are silly is not hate speech.

          Publicly stating that they don’t deserve the same human rights as non Catholics would be hate speech.

          • bunni88

            I just noticed that this is in Australia and not the United States. I am in the United States and we don’t have laws against this

          • bunni88

            You’ll be surprised about what people will protest against when Catholics or Islamists are involved. Saying anything negative against any religion can be considered hate speech depending on which party is offended.

          • Krayal

            The difference is not offence, it’s harm. There’s a huge difference between calling a Catholic silly, and, for example, trying to ban Catholic marriages because you personally dislike Catholics and don’t think they deserve the same rights as everyone else.

            Why does your hypothetical, prejudiced view that Catholics are bad people Trump the right of those people to marry in a way of their choosing?

      • haydn

        Your views are so biased that you’re one of the people why this campaign has become so one-sided. We are being bombarded with ads and TV reporting pushing the ‘yes’ vote to the detriment of the alternative and anyone who doesn’t think like you must somehow be a homophobe and out of alignment with the rest of society. I keep reading about the huge percentage of people in favour of legalising same-sex marriage yet I know no one that’s actually been asked for their opinion. They must have repeatedly asked you for yours. I know, have met and worked with a number of homosexuals over the years and like others, don’t have an extreme aversion to them but that doesn’t mean I agree with some supporters of the vote “yes’ campaign.

        No doubt if you win we will see the push for words like Mother and Father to be removed from Birth Certificates and replaced with Biological Donor1 and Biological Donor2, removal from use of Mother, Father, Wife, Husband, Son and Daughter solely so we can appease those that are so politically correct. Oh, and by the way, I can’t even vote so I’m free to comment as I like. I suggest you re-read Evelyn Beatrice Halls’ definition of tolerance. It’s what this campaign really needs.

  • bunni88

    uh….no this was not okay. While I support gay marriage it is not hate speech to vote no. Disagreeing with gay marriage is not hate. It does not mean you hate gay people. If this person said they hated gay people and wrote very awful things then sure, fire them but it’s free speech to say you are against it. It’s the same if some said I don’t date black people. Now, I’m black and you would think I would be offended but’s there’s plenty of people in the world so no and they are free to think that and no one should be forced to change their minds. This worker should not have been fired. That would be just as bad as someone firing someone for voting for Trump or Bernie or Hillary because they voted for someone you hated. Free Speech. Even if it hurts your feelings. Even if you disagree. Free speech for all.

    • Krayal

      Voting to keep equal marriage illegal is tantamount to saying LGBT people don’t deserve the same human rights as everyone else.

      It’s not the same as saying you don’t date black people – that’s a personal choice that has zero consequences for anyone else. It’s more like supporting laws to ban interracial dating, because *you personally* don’t like it.

      Fighting to deprive other people of their rights isn’t noble or laudable and this isn’t about ‘freedom of speech’. It’s about freedom.

      • bunni88

        Yes it is the same. People fought to marry people different than their skin color and people still fight and teach against marrying outside their culture. They have that right. Gay people are still getting married and people are still marrying outside of their culture / race. Get over the fact that people are against it. Don’t pay them no mind. If I paid attention to every black person that called me and Uncle Tom or a self-hating black person I would never have married my first husband who was white. I ignored them and I live my life the way I want to. I don’t let other people’s views or thoughts dictate what I do with my life and I don’t waste time being angry about someone’s view. So what if someone is against gay marriage, people are getting married. It’s legal. You can’t force people to think like you. No one will ever agree on everything. No matter how important you think it is. Animal rights are important to me but they’re not important to everyone else and I don’t get mad at people who think Michael Vick it still okay to play football even though I think he shouldn’t play it all because of how he abused animals. I don’t let that ruin my life or stay on my mind 24 hours a day nor do I bully them for thinking that Michael Vick should still be able to play football. Get over it.

        • Krayal

          Its not bloody legal in Australia. That’s the whole point of the article. I couldn’t give a rat’s if someone is personally against equal marriage – it’s that gay people can’t get married. They don’t have the same rights as Herero people and I think that’s disgusting.

          • bunni88

            You are entitled to your opinion as everyone else. I’ll give you some advice. Don’t waste your energy being mad. It only makes them dug their heels in. Bullying them doesn’t change their mind. It makes hate grow. People can change with time. I’ve had people hate me because ofbthis anti white rhetoric but when they get to know me they see Im different and are nicer. Violence and hate only breeds violence and hate. It’s not worth the energy. Put that energy into promoting gay marriage snd showing how people are loving and caring. Be peace. Have a wonderful day. I wish you love, light and happiness.

      • bunni88

        “Fighting to deprive other people of their rights isn’t noble or laudable and this isn’t about ‘freedom of speech’. It’s about freedom.”

        Just remember that applies to everyone even people you disagree with. Your freedom to choose isnt more important than theirs. To limit their freedom of speech is limiting their freedom. And in censoring someone else you have been eventually censor yourself because something you may say might make someone think of it as hate speech. Just remember when it comes to voting the majority wins. That is why gay marriage is legal in the United States even though there are people who are against it and protest it on a daily basis but hey it’s legal. Get over it.

        • Krayal

          Never. Denying people fundamental human rights due to their sexual orientation is not acceptable. It baffles me that people think it’s ok to behave that way – to literally dehumanise other people – due to personal distaste.