The issue of employers disciplining employees over social media posts continues to be difficult terrain for everyone to navigate.
We have recently seen a Cricket Australia employee dismissed from her role as Tasmanian Government Relations Manager following a series of personal tweets campaigning on Twitter for abortion reform in Tasmania. When Cricket Australia became aware of the tweets, Angela Williamson was dismissed because, as Cricket Australia stated, she neglected the key requirements of her role to facilitate a strong relationship with the Tasmanian Government.
Cricket Australia’s actions brought into sharp focus the right of an employer to enforce its social media policy with an employee’s ability to express personal views on social media. Ms Williamson filed proceedings in the Federal Court claiming she was unlawfully dismissed because she expressed political opinions on her personal Twitter account. The court proceeding would have looked at the extent an employer can discipline an employee for making such comments, however the parties subsequently reached a confidential settlement.
The Cricket Australia case happened at a time when the Federal Government decided to take a test case on a public servant’s private use of Twitter to the High Court. In this second case, the Federal Government appealed a finding from the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) that a former public servant’s dismissal for Twitter posts was unreasonable management action and that dismissal resulted in post-traumatic stress, a compensable injury for the former employee.
In September 2013, the former Department of Immigration employee Michaela Banerji was dismissed for breaching the Australian Public Service Code of Conduct when she made posts on Twitter about the then-Government’s asylum seeker policies. The posts were made on Ms Banerji’s anonymous Twitter account, under a pseudonym, and, according to the AAT, did not use information which was only in her possession as a Department employee.
This matter will be heard by the High Court in March 2019 and will be critical in helping employers and employees understand the fine line between the freedom of political expression and compliance with codes of conduct and social media policies.
We will keep you updated as the matter progresses but welcome your comments in the meantime. Do you think Cricket Australia was justified in dismissing Ms Williamson? Did the fact her role involved facilitating strong relationships with the Tasmanian Government mean there was a sufficient connection to her job? Should an employer’s code of conduct extend to personal comments (or even comments made under a pseudonym, as in Ms Banerji’s case)? How far does your social media policy go?