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Social Media – What employers can do to protect themselves

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Social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, have the potential to negatively impact the employer, and provide a conduit for the possible harassment and bullying of their employees.

The decision handed down by Deputy President Swan of Fair Work Australia in O’Keefe v Williams Muir’s Pty Ltd t/a Troy Williams The Good Guys highlights how through the use of social media that the ‘separation between work and home is now less pronounced than it once used to be’.

In this matter, a disgruntled employee posted a comment about his employer on his Facebook page from his computer outside of work hours.   Mr O’Keefe admitted to posting the comment ‘f…ing work still haven’t managed to f…ing pay me correctly.  C…s are going down tomorrow’, referring to pay issues.  The comments were read by work colleagues, which lead to the employer making the decision to terminate Mr O’Keefe’s employment.

The employer gave evidence that approximately 40% of his staff were female and that use of the word ‘c…s’ amounted to harassment and a threat to his female staff. Deputy President Swan observed that it would be difficult to accept that Mr O’Keefe ‘was unaware of the consequences of his actions’.

The issue of what employers can now do to protect themselves and their employees from abuse via social media tools is fast becoming one of the most important issues in the employer/employee relationship.

With social media staying for the long term, an employer must adopt a social media policy that can establish boundaries and consequences for the use and potential misuse of social media tools. A policy of this kind should also reference other existing policies within the workplace such as confidentiality, discrimination, computer usage, disciplinary procedures, and harassment, amongst others.

Please contact MST’s Workplace Relations team for assistance in developing a policy.