Following other recent Facebook cases, the perils of social networking have once more raised its ugly head in a recent unfair dismissal case and the use of Facebook by employees.

In this case an employee in a hairdressing business expressed her displeasure on Facebook at receiving a bonus less than what she expected and receiving part of her holiday pay by cheque. She took to Facebook posting the comment: “Xmas ‘bonus’ along side a job warning, followed by no holiday pay!!!! Whoooooo! The Hairdressing Industry rocks man!!! AWSOME!!!”.

While the employee’s security settings were set to "private" so that only her Facebook “friends” could read the comments, she did not take into consideration that one of her Facebook “friends” would pass on the comments to her employer.

Four reasons were relied upon by the employer to terminate the employee including "public display of dissatisfaction of base employment - Facebook". The other reasons included punctuality, removal of property from the premises and rescheduling of clients.

Commissioner Bissett in handing down the decision issued a timely warning to both employers and employees, stating that:

  • Employers do not have the right to sit in judgment on employees’ behaviour out of hours and that an employee has a right to a private life. It is only in limited circumstances that an employer could validly terminate an employee for conduct outside of work. A Facebook posting by an employee would need to be detrimental to the employer's business to justify diciplinary action.
  • Employees would be foolish to think they may say as they wish on their Facebook page with total immunity from any consequences: “a Facebook posting, while initially undertaken outside working hours, does not stop once work recommences. It remains on Facebook until removed, for anyone with permission to access the site to see.”

In finding for the employee, Commissioner Bissett stated that the comments whilst certainly foolish were also inaccurate and she did not consider the posting by the employee onto her Facebook page to be detrimental to the employers business. Therefore, Commissioner Bissett held, that in these circumstances the comments on the Facebook page did not provide a valid reason for dismissal.

Implications for Employers

Employers who identify that Facebook criticism could harm their business should ensure that their policies adequately manage social networking. Policies should clearly set out how an employee’s opinion, expressed in social networking, impacts on the employer. It is important that employees are aware of their employer's policies and any sanctions that may be imposed where they fail to follow the policy guidelines.