Worker reinstated after social media blunder

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Worker reinstated after social media blunder

A frontline Centrelink officer who was dismissed for posting inappropriate comments on social media over a three-year period has won reinstatement.

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A frontline Centrelink officer who was dismissed for posting inappropriate comments on social media over a three-year period has won reinstatement.

[Full text of this case: S v Department of Human Services [2016] FWC 1460 - Hatcher VP - 29 March 2016]

The Fair Work Commission considered the nature and gravity of the conduct with regards to the Public Service Act 1999, and whether the scope of employer control over private conduct may be greater regarding public servants.

The conduct involved references to the department's clients being 'spastics and junkies' among other terms; comments that a large proportion of Newstart exemptions sought on the basis of depression were not genuine and statements that the department's processing times were 'utterly disgraceful' and the employee was 'embarrassed to work there'.

Reasons for dismissal


A letter of termination to the employee stated: "the level of criticism you have directed towards the government, the department, and its employees and customers, over a period of nearly three years, gives cause for grave concern about your ability to undertake your duties impartially, and reasonably suggests that you have deliberately sought to publically damage the reputation of the department, despite your assertion that this was not the case.

"... you have demonstrated a fundamental lack of respect, integrity and professional esteem towards the government, the department and its policies, programs, employees and customers. In this regard, you have conducted yourself in a manner that is entirely inconsistent with the standards of professional probity required of you as a public service employee. Your conduct represents a significant breach of trust which I consider to be inconsistent with the maintenance of the ongoing employment relationship."

The commission also heard the Australian Public Service had a social media policy which clearly outlined what was unacceptable behaviour.

In determining the dismissal was harsh, Vice President Hatcher considered the employee's 21 years of service, the fact he recognised the conduct was inappropriate, and the consequences of termination on him. 

No order for lost remuneration was made as the conduct was worthy of a significant disciplinary response.

S v Department of Human Services [2016] FWC 1460 - Hatcher VP - 29 March 2016

See also: WorkplaceInfo's Social Media White Paper

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