The Fair Work Commission has upheld the dismissal of an employee who refused to acknowledge that he had read and understood his employer’s social media policy, which extended to conduct outside of work.
The employee was sacked for cumulative breaches of the employer’s policies, including its social media policy. The breaches of the social media policy related to the employee’s refusal to sign an acknowledgement that he had read and understood the policy, as he saw its application outside of work as overreaching. The employee claimed he had been unfairly dismissed, arguing that there was no valid reason for his termination.
The Commission found that the persistent breaches of the employer’s policies (including the social media policy) constituted a valid reason for termination. The Commission rejected the employee’s argument about the scope of the employer’s social media policy, providing useful guidance on social media policies in the workplace:
Gone is the time (if it ever existed) where an employee might claim posts on social media are intended to be for private consumption only… it is difficult to see how a social media policy designed to protect an employer’s reputation and the security of the business could operate in an “at work” context only. I accept that there are many situations in which an employer has no right to seek to restrict or regulate an employee’s activities away from work. However, in the context of the use of social media, and a policy intended to protect the reputation and security of a business, it is difficult to see how such a policy could operate in this constrained way… clearly there are some obligations employees accept as part of their employment relationship that have application whether they are at work or involved in activities outside of working hours.
Key points for employers:
- Social media policies are an important and legitimate tool for protecting an employer’s reputation and the security of its business.
- It is reasonable for social media policies to apply both at work, and outside working hours.
- This decision highlights a changing view of social media – one which is moving away from the understanding of social media activity as private.