Legal experts say employers should set clear guidelines for the use of social media, after a man was fired for posting a work-related rant on Facebook outside of work hours.
Damian O’Keefe, a former employee of The Good Guys in Townsville, was dismissed after using Facebook to post an expletive-filled rant against a manager on his day off.
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Fair Work Australia heard that O’Keefe’s employer sacked O’Keefe after interpreting his comments as a threat to operations manager Kelly Taylor.
The employer argued there was a direct link between O’Keefe’s Facebook post and his place of work.
O’Keefe lodged an unfair dismissal claim, arguing his Facebook profile was set to the maximum privacy setting and The Good Guys was not mentioned in the post.
But of the 70 people who could see O’Keefe’s comments, 11 were co-workers.
FWA deputy president Deirdre Swan said O’Keefe engaged in serious misconduct, dismissing his unfair dismissal claim.
“The fact that the comments were made on the applicant’s home computer, out of work hours, does not make any difference,” she said.
“The comments were read by work colleagues and it was not long before Ms Taylor was advised of what had occurred… The separation between home and work is now less pronounced than it once used to be.”
According to employment and commercial law firm BlandsLaw, the case should serve as a warning with regard to the use of social media among workers.
“The lesson for employers is that such postings could be in breach of an employee’s conditions of employment where there is a clear definition of what is acceptable in the context of social media, and what the consequences are when those conditions are breached,” the company says.
“The solution for employers is to ensure their suite of policies and procedures ensures a social media policy.”
“Have a clear policy about the use of social media by employees, and ensure employees are aware of the consequences of posting comments on social media sites that may concern the employer.”
The policy should address:
- The nature of control over social media use. For example, a total ban, limited use or total accessibility.
- Who the policy applies to.
- Authority limits or restrictions for use including permission required, content pre-approval, etc.
- What can or cannot be discussed on social media forums.
- What logos, icons and ideas can or cannot be published on social media forums.
- What disclaimers or other information must be included when participating in a social media forum.
- The nature of behaviour that is acceptable or unacceptable
- When it is and isn’t acceptable to use or participate in a social media forum.
- Consequences of breaching the policy.