Legal E: How to protect your business from employee comments on social media

An apartment manager in Sydney was sacked recently by his employer, Meriton Apartments, after it was brought to their attention that he had called journalist Clementine Ford a derogatory name on her Facebook page.  

The employee in question had a public Facebook profile which contained personal information, including where he worked. Meriton Apartments also had a Facebook page, and so Ms Ford took screen shots of the employee’s comment, along with other racist posts that he had made, and then posted them on her Facebook feed. In this post, Ms Ford tagged Meriton Apartments and questioned whether they were aware of the actions of this particular employee. The post caused a deluge of virulent and hateful comments to be posted in reply. 

You can imagine the damage that could be done to the business reputation of Meriton Apartments and to internal employee relationships if they were seen to condone the actions of this employee. It’s no wonder that they took action so swiftly.  There has been much commentary in the media as to whether the employee was treated fairly by both his employer and Ms Ford. Of course, we do not know the details of this particular dismissal, but what would you do if an employee of yours had acted in this way?

As mentioned in our article about Christmas parties, employers are generally not entitled to discipline their employees for “out of hours” conduct unless that conduct is likely to cause real damage to the employer’s business. There also has to be a clear link online between the employee and employer.

An employee stating where they work on their Facebook page, posting photographs of themselves in their work uniform, or naming their employer or work colleagues in their posts could all be seen as establishing such a link.

Once a link is established, then action can be taken to dismiss, provided the process is fair and reasonable and the conduct was bad enough to warrant dismissal. So you may be able to discipline the employee but the damage to your reputation and business will have already been done.

To protect yourself, it is important to put in place a clear social media policy which prohibits behaviour that can identify your business, including its employees, and could:

  • cause adverse publicity to your business or brand; disclose confidential information of the business;  
  • be seen as derogatory about customers, clients, fellow employees or is otherwise discriminatory, sexist or racist;
  • otherwise undermine working relationships, either between employees or the public and the business.

The policy must also set out the potential consequences of breaching that policy, including dismissal.

Taking the time to develop and implement a social media policy and training your staff with regard to appropriate behaviour online can help you to minimise the chance that your business will one day be embroiled in a social media storm.

This article was prepared by Elizabeth Olsson, Senior Solicitor at Mellor Olsson.

For further information or assistance, please give us a call.

  

Joanna Andrew, Partner 
Ph: (08) 8414 3454 e: jandrew@mellorolsson.com.au 

Tim Mellor, Partner
Ph: (08) 8414 3416 e: tmellor@mellorolsson.com.au

  

  

Elizabeth Olsson, Senior Solicitor   Ph: (08) 8414 3413 e: eolsson@mellorolsson.com.au

Thea Birss, Senior Associate 
Ph: (08) 8414 3415                          e: tbirss@mellorolsson.com.au

  

Maria Demosthenous, Senior Associate 
Ph: (08) 8414 3418 e: mdemosthenous@mellorolsson.com.au

The contents of the e-alert are for general information only. They are not intended as professional advice - for that you should consult a solicitor or barrister, or any other suitably qualified professional such as your accountant.

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