A Victorian business owner learned to his cost recently about the harsh realities of social media use in the workplace - and setting rules around it.
After being with the business for one year, a male employee was summarily dismissed by one of the business’s executives, due to an inappropriate and explicit update he posted on his Facebook feed. The post alluded to a woman who had just been promoted having provided certain ‘favours’ to her boss in return for the new role.
The employee in question soon amended the post, clarifying that the female employee was at his mother’s workplace — not his own. However, not long after that he was contacted by his managing director and his employment was terminated - effective immediately.
The now ex-employee instigated unfair dismissal proceedings. His former employer argued strongly that the employee’s derogatory comments had overstepped boundaries and were not consistent with a safe working environment which is free of harassment, victimisation, or any kind of sexual abuse.
The employee counter-claimed that he hadn’t been provided with a copy of the social media policy and was unaware of having received any warnings about social media use. Further, he alleged that the post was unrelated to his workplace, and it was posted while he was on a break at work.
The Fair Work Commission found that the employee had in fact been unfairly dismissed, and awarded him over $6,000 as compensation.
There were three reasons given for this finding.
- The employee had flexible working hours and it was unclear whether he was on a break at the time of making the post;
- there was no evidence to show that the employee was provided with a copy of the social media policy, as the policy acknowledgment document was unsigned; and
- the employer’s concerns about the language used in the post was ‘tempered by the fact that similar language appears to have been used in the workplace at various times’.
A MESSAGE FOR SMALL BUSINESS
Dealing with social media as an employer can be very difficult. It may only take a few seconds for an employee to grossly misuse social media during work time, but it takes much longer for an employer to properly respond and take appropriate action. Incidents like this can leave a business owner with a hefty bill - and a heavy heart - when things go wrong.
PROTECT YOUR BUSINESS
It’s vital, astute business practice and good governance for every business owner to get their house in order.
Every business owner worth their salt wants the peace of mind that comes from knowing they are meeting procedural obligations - with best practice standards in place for when it really counts.
Meeting your procedural obligations and making your expectations clear to employees from the outset, ensures that your business can handle workplace complexities and disputes as they arise, smartly and professionally – and in line with the law.
SOCIAL MEDIA & THE INTERNET
With the rise of new media, ways in which employees can communicate with each other, with those outside your business, and about your business, are continually evolving. While this creates new opportunities, it also creates accountabilities. It’s important for business owners to have a Social Media & Internet policy that applies to all employees and contractors who use social media and the internet - whether in a private or business capacity.
CODE OF CONDUCT
If a business expects employees to always treat others with the utmost respect and courtesy, both in person and online, it’s good due diligence to set expectations with a Code of Conduct. Having benchmarks in place, so employees understand that congenial, professional and respectful behaviour is standard workplace practice, is almost certainly going to help your business tackle the bigger issues, if they arise.
Ensure you take the next steps too. All employees must be made aware of these policies with adequate training on the topic of their obligations within your business. Have them sign off - to acknowledge their understanding. And don’t let the dust settle there. Lead by example and remind your employees at every opportunity of exactly what your workplace expectations are.
While we know that every situation is different, and the policies you implement aren’t legal documents nor will they guarantee compliance, they will provide you with assurance - that you’re meeting your procedural obligations, and can best handle workplace complexities as they arise, smartly and professionally – and in line with the law.