People & Human Resources

Worker dismissed for fiery Facebook post criticising his employers’ memo after death of fellow employee

Emma Koehn /

A Northern Territory worker has said he does not regret posting an attack on his employers in a Facebook group, expressing outrage at a memo sent by the company about employee attendance just hours after the death of another employee.

The NT News reports the construction worker was dismissed from his role after he posted comments in a fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) workers Facebook group, calling his employers “f-ing dogs” over a memo sent to staff after the suicide of a worker at the Inpex Ichthy LNP site.

The memo was in the form of an email from management, which outlined that a staff member had sadly died on the site. It included a reminder that all staff must adhere to rostered hours and that a medical certificate would be required for any personal leave.

The worker said he took objection to the message on social media because it was insensitive.

‘It was not a nice thing (for me) to write … but (the) memo didn’t show any sensitivity to anyone, especially considering the timing,” the worker told the NT News.

The worker was later dismissed because of his actions on social media.

A spokesperson for JKC, the contractor at the Inpex Ichthy’s LNP plant, told the NT News the company “maintains a zero tolerance approach to offensive or intimidating behaviour of any form”.

Concerns from staff working at the site had been running high, with the union representing construction workers claiming that 14 staff have died by suicide on the Inpex project, according to the ABC.

The worker says he believes he was singled out by the company “for posting about contractors’ lack of sensitivity” by sending the memo so soon after the death of an employee.

Have a plan for communicating in a tragedy

Director of Workplace Law Shane Koelmeyer says while it’s important to have social media policies in place for staff, employers should also have “a degree of flexibility in terms of the outcome of a breach”.

“For example, saying ‘failure to comply with our social media policy may result in termination of employment’,” he suggests. 

While there is no suggestion at this stage that action will be taken over the dismissal, Koelmeyer says employers should also take all factors into consideration before making a decision based on something like social media use, because if a case ever did get to the Fair Work Commission, commissioners will take into account all relevant factors associated with an employee’s actions.

When it comes to communicating with staff after a tragedy at work, there are also frameworks that businesses can put in place for best practice to make staff feel supported, he says.

“Employers should always think about the timing of announcements — plan them properly, consider what is happening at the time ( the ‘temperature’ of the workplace) and the purpose of the memo,” he suggests.

When communicating with staff about a tragedy, Koelmeyer says employers should try to ensure sympathy and empathy are at the heart of the message, before other details follow.

“Offer the EAP [employee assistance program] to people who are having a tough time coping,” he suggests.

SmartCompany contacted Inpex for comment but did not receive a response prior to publication. The worker could not be contacted for comment prior to publication.

If you or someone you know is living with mental health issues, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636. 

NOW READ: Construction business ordered to pay ‘casual’ worker 15 years of annual leave after court action

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is a former senior journalist at SmartCompany.

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