human resources

UK worker sacked by text message for liking Facebook post: Could the same thing happen in Australia?

Eloise Keating /

 

A worker in Britain has lost his job for simply liking a colleague’s Facebook post, in yet another case that highlights the difficulties for businesses when managing the use of social media by their staff.

However, one employment law specialist says it is unlikely the same incident would result in an employer taking disciplinary action against an employee in Australia.

Troy Garrod had worked for UK book wholesaler Bertrams Books in Norwich for more than four years before he was told this week he no longer had a job because his liking of a photo on Facebook constituted bullying, reports The Mirror.

The photo in question was of a jumper with images of five wolves printed on the back, which was taken inside one of the company’s warehouses.

The photo was uploaded to Facebook by one of his co-workers who said “OMG I’m f**king crying … I’m sure there’s a wolf fleece appreciation page pahahaha.”

Garrod told The Mirror around 70 other Facebook users had liked the photo before him and although he didn’t know what the photo meant, “everyone else who worked there was liking it so I just joined in”.

A few days later Garrod received a text message saying he had been sacked as he had “bullied” the owner of the jumper by liking the “inappropriate” photo.

“I felt really hurt and angry and all my former colleagues think what happened is ridiculous,” he said.

“Being sacked by text and email is not right after four-and-a-half years of hard work. I put my heart and soul into that company and enjoyed going into work every day.

“It just seems so unfair that clicking the ‘like’ button has caused me so much trouble.”

Bertrams has declined to comment on the incident but The Mirror reports the worker who uploaded the photo is believed to currently be suspended from her job.

Employment lawyer Peter Vitale told SmartCompany this morning the reports suggest Garrod’s employment had recently been changed from that of a full-time employee at Bertrams to a “temporary worker” employed via a recruitment agency and this could be why the company was able to terminate his employment over the incident.

“I’m struggling to see in Australia that this would appropriately result in disciplinary action,” Vitale says.

“The UK unfair dismissal law is not dissimilar to Australia’s but it appears his employment had changed … that could have had an impact on the reasons.”

Vitale says when it comes to taking disciplinary action against employees for their actions on social media, it is less of a question about how many Facebook posts or tweets are considered inappropriate and more about the seriousness of the posts in question.

“It ultimately depends on the content and the whether the content constitutes something that warrants action,” he says.

Vitale says both employers and employees are still coming to grips with how to manage social media use in a work context and there have been “plenty” of instances where particular social media posts by employees have been found to constitute bullying, discrimination or harassment.

“The critical thing in Australia is that in order to discipline employees in relation to social media, it’s important for employers to have appropriate policies in place and that employees understand the consequences of ill-advised social media use,” he says.

 

 

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Eloise Keating

Eloise Keating is the editor of SmartCompany. Previously, Eloise was news editor at Books+Publishing, the trade press for the Australian book industry.

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