Legal experts are urging businesses to train their staff in up-to-date social media policies this year, after activewear brand Lorna Jane won a two-year legal battle in November against a former employee who claimed the company was responsible for the psychiatric impacts of bullying at work.
Former Brisbane store manager Amy Robinson filed a legal claim against Lorna Jane in 2015, seeking $570,000 in damages. The former manager claimed Lorna Jane was negligent and should be held responsible for her being bullied by a learning and development manager at the company, which led to psychiatric illness and a loss of employment and future employability.
The company came out swinging against the claims early on, posting a later-deleted Facebook post in 2015 defending itself against the claims and saying it had been “very disappointed” by what had been reported in the media about the case.
The claims included that Robinson was bullied and called a variety of names while working at the company over a period of 20 weeks.
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Robinson also put forward two Facebook posts made by the learning and development manager, which she believed were being critical of her.
One of these involved the manager writing a status on Facebook saying: “What a day! It’s difficult to soar with the eagles when your [sic] surrounded by turkeys. Is it too late to pursue a different career?”
In deciding the case in November 2016, Queensland District Court Judge Gregory Koppenol found Robinson “failed to prove each aspect of her claim”, which he subsequently dismissed.
He found the Facebook posts had indeed been made by the manager, but that Lorna Jane should not be held liable for these for a range of reasons, including that the learning and development manager thought they were only visible on her personal Facebook page.
However, it was the process the company went through once being made aware of the posts that led to the judge finding the company had taken the right action.
“Once Lorna Jane became aware of the Facebook posts, [the manager] was immediately instructed to take them down (delete them), which she did. Lorna Jane also immediately (a) took disciplinary action against [her], (b) removed the DFO store from [her] control, and (c) arranged for Ms Robinson to report to [another staff member] and not to [the manager].
“In my view, those were the appropriate steps to take in response to Lorna Jane’s becoming aware of the offending Facebook posts,” Judge Koppenol said in the decision.
Social media policy and actions key
While the court’s decision also examined a number of other claims made by Robinson, including in relation to physical and psychiatric injuries, Director of Workplace Law Shane Koelmeyer says businesses can learn a lot from this case when reviewing their social media policies for 2018.
Koelmeyer says it was Lorna Jane’s actions in relation to its social media policy that convinced the court it was not liable for the Facebook posts in question.
“Lorna Jane had strict policies in place, and once they became aware of it [posts that could have breached the policy], the worker was immediately instructed to delete them,” Koelmeyer says.
Koelmeyer says small businesses can learn from the swift way Lorna Jane acted when it became aware of the Facebook posts, reflecting that if all staff are regularly trained about a company’s codes of conduct, it makes it much easier to enforce these the minute that concerns arise.
Social media platforms are always changing, so it’s critical companies regularly review whether their policies fit with how workers use social media.
“What is and isn’t acceptable is ever-changing in society, so it is important to keep reminding and training your staff,” he says.
Koelmeyer believes Lorna Jane was able to win the case because it could demonstrate clear action once a complaint had been made about a staff member’s social media use.
“Make sure that when it’s brought to your attention, you then act appropriately,” he says.
SmartCompany contacted Lorna Jane for comment but did not receive a response prior to publication. SmartCompany also contacted Shine Lawyers, Robinson’s legal representative, but did not receive a response prior to publication.