Blurred Lines: Social Media in our Lives & Work
4 March 2020
The way we perform work and live our lives has evolved with the introduction of new technology. Social media is a powerful tool, allowing individuals and organisations to interact with the community and share information in real time. However, social media is also fraught with a number of unique risks.
Technology and the internet have opened our homes and workplaces up to the world with access to real time information at our fingertips. With most of us carrying our phone around in our pockets or accessing sites such as Facebook on our desktops at work, the divide between our professional and private lives is often blurred.
As a result, employers are increasingly confronted with the impact of social media use by employees, particularly if there has been offence caused to another employee or posts or comments that conflict with the organisation’s values.
Social media-related claims are emerging in a variety of industrial relations jurisdictions.
For example, in 2015, a real estate agent successfully applied for orders to stop bullying in the Fair Work Commission’s anti-bullying jurisdiction in circumstances where the alleged bullying included being de-friended by her manager on Facebook.
In 2018, an employer commenced disciplinary proceedings against an employee who had forwarded a sexually explicit image on Snapchat to a colleague after hours. The employee was dismissed and then made an unfair dismissal application, claiming the image had been sent by accident when he was trying to send a picture of his new tattoo. The Fair Work Commission determined that the image had been deliberately sent and upheld the dismissal.
Recently, there was a much publicised dispute between Israel Folau and Rugby Australia when Folau was dismissed for an Instagram post that Rubgy Australia determined was in breach of its code of conduct (and in turn, Folau’s contract). Folau and Rugby Australia settled their dispute. However, the question remains as to the extent to which an employer can regulate the personal views employees express on social media.
What steps should employers be taking right now?
There are steps that employers can take to maximise the benefits and minimise the risks of the use of social media.
It’s important that employees are aware of your expectations regarding the use of work-related social media as well as private accounts. This can be achieved through the implementation of an up to date social media policy. CCER has a Social Media Policy template, available for members to download here.
All employees must act consistently with their employer’s expectations as set out in any employment contract or workplace policies. If an employee fails to meet these requirements, such behaviour could constitute misconduct and result in disciplinary action.
Employment relations in this area is constantly evolving, and matters concerning the use of social media often pose high reputational and industrial risk.
Sarahanne Moody and Rita Bhattacharya will be exploring these issues in more detail when they host CCER’s Webinar on Social Media on 1 April 2020. To register, see the Events and Training section of our website.
If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to get in touch and speak with any of our Employment Relations Specialists at (02) 9390 5255 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.