Twitter in the wrong space and you might face the sack

News

Twitter in the wrong space and you might face the sack

Putting comments about workmates or your employer on your Facebook, MySpace or Twitter site has become another way to get sacked — but would such a dismissal be legal?

WantToReadMore

Get unlimited access to all of our content.

Putting comments about workmates or your employer on your Facebook, MySpace or Twitter site has become another way to get sacked — but would such a dismissal be legal?
 
The Sydney Morning Herald’s technology webpage has been running stories on employees who have been dismissed or disciplined for comments made in Facebook.
 
Unfair dismissal claim
 
However a senior workplace lawyer, Steven Penning (a partner with Turner Freeman), says workers sacked over this issue could have grounds for an unfair dismissal claim.
 
‘What employers are doing is they're scrambling and trying to make out that present policies can be stretched to cover these new areas, and in many respects they can't,’ Penning told SMH.
 
‘If an employer hasn't told people in advance what the rules are, what the conditions are, then that greatly increases the likelihood that an employee can say “well, I can't be terminated for this because I wasn't aware that this is something I was not to do”.’
 
Penning contrasted this with policies on internet access and the personal use of the employer’s email system.
 
The ‘private’ is now ‘public’
 
He said people were now saying things on social network sites like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace that were formerly only said in private. However such ‘private’ conversations were now public and could be distributed to others.
 
The SMH site reports the case of a casual worker at a Queensland Government Department.
 
She wrote on her Facebook site that in future she would no longer work for ‘shitty Government departments’.
 
She did not name her employer or any individual, but a work colleague saw the comment and passed it on to her boss.
 
The next day she came to work she was sacked and escorted out of the building.
 
Forced to resign
 
Another woman wrote in a friend’s Facebook page that her company ‘sucks’.
 
One of her managers saw the comment, forwarded it to a company director and she was forced to resign.
 
And this problem can occur on a greater scale than just dealing with individual workers who make incautious comments on a website.
 
The NSW Department of Corrective Services is threatening to sack prison officers over posts they made to a Facebook group criticising the cash-strapped State Government's plans to privatise Parklea and Cessnock prisons.
 
Penning said most employment contracts and policies had rules against speaking to media, but these were different from posting comments on social networking sites.
 
Policy audit
 
‘The first thing that needs to be done is a thorough audit of all of their policies, employment agreements and contracts to determine if those documents refer at all to social networking controls and social networking obligations, and that's the first step,’ Penning said.
 
‘It's not about total control ... it's saying that you're not using the sites or saying things on the sites which are damaging to the organisation that you work for.’
 
Penning cited the example of three scantily clad Californian teens who were fired from their jobs at Kentucky Fried Chicken late last year for publishing photos of themselves on MySpace bathing in a KFC basin.
 
‘Something like that is damaging and has the potential to be very detrimental to an organisation, because it's clearly saying it's not healthy to eat here, our standards are appalling,’ he said.
Post details