Social networking sites bring up a whole load of complications as they can lead to a blurring of the line between personal and professional. In a post on the topic of social networking I wrote a while back, a commenter, Chris, alerted me to a powerpoint slideshow on social networking here. It’s worth looking at (I can’t work out how to embed it, sorry). It discusses how social network sites like Facebook are arranged so that people have just one large group of friends, whereas in real life people have multiple, often distinct sets of friends. Once the distinct friendship groups are mixed, this can lead to problems.
However, this is even more acute if one mixes work friends and colleagues with one’s general social groupings. And, as the presentation above notes, people sometimes do not realise that conversations online are persistent in a way that a casual verbal conversation is not. Even if one’s profile is private, one can still get into trouble.
In The Australian today, I read of a recent case in which the Fair Work Australia Tribunal upheld the right of an employer to sack an employee for a rant which was made outside work hours on his home computer. The employee worked at an electrical goods store, and was upset because he felt that he had not been paid commission that was owing to him. He wrote, “f…ing work still haven’t managed to f…ing pay me correctly. C…s are going down tomorrow” in a status update on his private Facebook page. His comments were directed at Ms Taylor, the employer’s Operations Manager who was responsible for payment to employees. Apparently the employee had been in dispute with Ms Taylor for some time over the outstanding payments. The employee blocked Ms Taylor from seeing the comment, but 11 other co-workers were friends on Facebook and could still see the comment. The director of the employer called the employee in and explained that such comments potentially constituted sexual harassment and bullying, particularly because other employees could see what was written. He also believed the comment “c..ts are going down tomorrow” constituted a threat to Ms Taylor. Accordingly, he terminated the employee’s position with the company.
The FWA Tribunal concluded that this conduct constituted serious misconduct and was in breach of the company’s work policies. The employee tried to argue that the termination was harsh, unjust and unreasonable pursuant to s 387 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth). However, the Tribunal considered that there were valid reasons for the employee’s dismissal, the employee was properly informed of those reasons and that the employee was given a chance to respond to the reasons. Finally, the Tribunal also found that there were other methods of resolving the dispute other than by abusing and threatening Ms Taylor.
The Tribunal stressed at :
The fact that the comments were made on the applicant’s home computer, out of work hours, does not make any difference. The comments were read by work colleagues and it was not long before Ms Taylor was advised of what had occurred. The respondent has rightfully submitted, in my view, that the separation between home and work is now less pronounced than it once used to be.
Any person thinking about having a rant about their workplace or boss would be well advised to think again, particularly in light of this decision. Discretion is definitely the better part of valour where social networking and work issues are concerned.
(Full FWA decision available here).