Businesses have once again been warned to ensure their employees know social media sites can serve as an extension of the workplace, following a Fair Work Commission case involving an employee who made offensive remarks against a colleague on Facebook.
The FWC has now awarded Gloria Bowden $7,500 in compensation after she was unfairly dismissed by her employer, the retirement village group Ottrey Lodge.
“Even though the employer doesn’t have control over what happens on social media, such as Facebook,” says industrial relations lawyer and expert Peter Vitale, “they do have a responsibility to point out those communications can be taken into account.”
The case comes as a number of other Fair Work rulings are building a suite of decisions which suggest companies must pay attention to how their employees are using social media.
Gloria Bowden was involved in an argument on Facebook with another employee who accused her of intimidation. The conversation was sparked due to an ongoing investigation conducted by the chief executive into the company’s supposed low morale.
An employee named Crocker filed a complaint against some of Bowden’s friends. Some complications surrounding this complaint caused Bowden to write a post on her Facebook wall about the incident.
Crocker then posted the words, “f-ck you all”, believing Bowden’s post was about her. She removed the post shortly afterwards, believing she had gone too far.
After a conversation on Facebook, Bowden sent this employee a document entitled “workplace politics”, which intimidated the employee who feared it may lead to discipline. It was the sending of this document that partly resulted in Bowden being dismissed.
The Fair Work Commission approved the application for unfair dismissal, saying Bowden was summarily dismissed, rather than dismissed with notice. The FWC also granted her $7,500 in compensation last week.
Vitale says while the decision here is quite specific to the workplace, he says it is yet another example of why businesses need to be concerned about what their employees are writing on social networks, especially when it comes to making derogatory statements and bullying.
Research from security firm AVG recently showed more Australians are being subject to bullying and harassment via social networks in the workplace.
“It’s now becoming that unacceptable communications via social media are a workplace issue,” says Vitale. “Much in the same way courts and tribunals consider physical locations outside the workplace to be part of the workplace.”