As social media, particularly Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Pinterest and other platforms have become extremely common, it is not surprising that there has been an impact within the area of employment law.
At Andersons, we see more and more clients who have encountered problems at work because of things they have said or posted on social media sites. It is often easy to think that the use of social media is personal and should therefore not interfere with one’s professional life, but there are certain situations when inappropriate social media use can jeopardise employment relationships and even lead to employment termination.
"...it is not uncommon for these individuals to face disciplinary action and even termination of their employment."
As social media has developed faster than the law, industrial relations legislation is not crystal clear in relation to the interaction between social media and the workplace. Like with most workplace disputes, we must focus on the individual circumstances of each particular matter. Here are a few tips to help you use social media while minimising risk of getting into trouble at work.
Read your workplace Social Media and Internet policies
Many workplaces will have an internal policy outlining how you can use the internet at work and also what you can and cannot say on social media. If your policy doesn't allow for personal internet use, or only allows it during breaks, you should remain off Facebook and other social media sites at all other times while at work. The policies could also include using social media platforms on your own mobile devices during work hours.
Similarly, if your policy mandates you shouldn't discuss work on your social media forums like Twitter, then keep the shop talk for the break room. Many clients who have simply experienced a bad day at work (or had a negative run in with their boss) feel that it’s appropriate to vent their frustration on their personal social media pages when they get home from work. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for these individuals to face disciplinary action and even termination of their employment.
Unfortunately not all workplace policies are clear, and if that is the case you may wish to seek clarification from your supervisor or HR Manager. A thorough policy should indicate what is and isn’t allowed, when it is allowed, and what consequences may apply in relation to a breach.
Use your privacy settings and use common sense
If you absolutely have to share something about your work with your mates via social media, keeping it under wraps by making the post available to “friends only” is a good idea. Make sure information posted complies with your employer's Code of Conduct (and any internal policies) and any laws. But remember if you have workmates on your friends list (including supervisors/managers), the posted information is likely to be circulated within the workplace.
If you write negative posts about a colleague, even if they don't see it, you run the risk of receiving a harassment complaint against you. Also, your employer will not be amused if you post something negative about them or the business, even if you keep it vague enough to not explicitly identify particular individuals. Anything that you write online that could adversely affect your employer's reputation can also result in disciplinary measures.
Know how to use your social media accounts and use them wisely
The industrial relations umpire, Fair Work Australia, has shown through cases that while they may accept that some people may be ignorant regarding the use of social media including Facebook, this potential excuse will not last forever. As social media becomes more entrenched in society, people will be expected to take more responsibility for their online actions. Know how to use your privacy settings, how to delete posts, and how to friend and de-friend or block individuals.
Chatting with your friends on Facebook is not the equivalent of a chat over beers after work, as it is it is in writing and can have far reaching repercussions! But if you are careful about what you post, and you stay away from Facebook when you're meant to be working, it's unlikely that you will ever run into trouble. If you do, make sure you keep a copy of the original posts, and seek legal support as soon as possible.
At Andersons, our team in Employment & Industrial law are there to help you if you run into problems with your employer about your use of social media platforms.