The sacking by SBS of a journalist for comments on his personal Twitter account has put employer management of social media back in the spotlight. 

Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson has defended the employer’s decision to sack the journalist, as the employee had signed an agreement with his employer in which he agreed not to do anything in his public conduct which could bring his employer into disrepute.

An effective policy remains an employer’s most effective risk management tool in protecting its reputation and liability.

What is social media?

Social media includes any online and interactive tools and platforms by which content can be created and shared, such as tweets or blogs, audio, photographs and videos shared on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Spotify and Instagram

  • How do the courts regard an employee’s use of social media?

Vilifying or abusing a staff member can be a breach of social media policy, and lead to disciplinary action by the employer.

Facebook use from a home computer outside of business hours has been considered serious misconduct by the Fair Work Commission (O’Keefe v Williams Muir’s Pty Limited T/A troy Williams The Good Guys.)

Incessant social media posts during work hours may also lead to disciplinary action by the employer.

The Federal Court has confirmed that monitoring by a government department of its employees’ personal use of IT systems is not an invasion of privacy, provided employees are informed that such monitoring will take place (Griffiths v Rose). 

Social media can be crucial for business

Social media networking can have positive aspects, particularly as a marketing and communication tool.

Employer policy must also have regard to the positive uses of social media as well as directing employees to not mix professional and personal issues in ways likely to bring the employer into disrepute, or abuse another staff member.

Educating employees about the employer’s policy expectations will greatly reduce the likelihood an unfortunate situation occurring… and is usually an essential precondition to taking disciplinary action for a policy breach.