Social Media in the Workplace

The rise in prevalence of social media has generally been a positive marketing, sales and client engagement tool for businesses in Australia. The rapid rise of social media use does however come with increased risks for employers regarding employee’s usage and conduct on social media platforms both within and outside of the workplace.

Common law has long established that outside conduct by an employee can have an effect on their employment, where there is a reasonable connection to the workplace and the conduct has serious implications for the employer. Untoward social media behaviour in some circumstances may satisfy that connection. It’s becoming increasingly common place for employees to display their displeasure with their manager, colleagues, and their employer by posting on social media. When employees engage in this kind of conduct it can be construed as bullying or harassment, which in turn exposes the employer to risk.

Implementing a Social Media Policy
Having a social media policy that sets parameters on acceptable social media use is proving incredibly important to outline appropriate use of social media both within and outside of the workplace.

Employers must ensure the policy be consistently applied and any procedures for dealing with breaches precisely followed.

  • Some key elements to consider including in a social media policy are:
  • Limiting personal usage of social media during work hours.
  • Guidelines surrounding the use of the employer’s social media in the course of official work duties.
  • Parameters around posting of social media content where in connection with the
    employer, other employees, and customers.
  • Penalties for breaches of the policy and associated disciplinary action.

When implementing a social media policy, it is important for the business to effectively consult, educate and communicate to all staff the contents of the policy and the procedure for dealing with complaints and potential breaches, including associated disciplinary action.

This gives employees the opportunity to raise any queries with the policy, as well as for the business to ensure employees fully understand the contents of the policy and how it relates to their employment.

Where an employee is potentially in breach of a social media policy, employers should ensure a thorough investigation is carried out prior to determining the outcome of any alleged social media policy breach.

Outcomes of a disciplinary process for such actions may include the issue of written warnings, termination with notice, or summary dismissal for serious misconduct. An appropriate performance management process must be followed in instances where an employee has allegedly breached the social media policy.

If an employee’s out of work conduct is deemed to be serious enough to warrant termination, the usual principles for terminating employees on the basis of inappropriate conduct and behaviour at work should apply.

This includes ensuring a fair process is followed, which affords the employee natural justice, and having a valid reason for termination.

Case Example
In Matthew Thompson v 360 Finance Pty Ltd [2021] FWC 2570, the Fair Work Commission
(FWC) upheld the dismissal of an employee who was terminated for inappropriate use of
social media.

The employee was dismissed after he posted two memes to his personal Facebook page.
The first post was a photo with a colleague which was accompanied with sexually explicit
commentary. After the colleague requested he remove the image from Facebook, he
posted a second photo of himself accompanied with an expletive ridden caption mocking
the request to remove the photo. After finding out about the social media posts, the
employer provided the employee with a chance to respond in writing. Not satisfied with
the response, the employer ultimately decided that termination was the appropriate
course of action and dismissed the employee.

The rationale provided by the business for termination was misuse of social media, the
employers property, sexual harassment and failing to comply with company policy. It’s
also important to note that the employee had received several written warnings prior and
was also on a final warning for inappropriate conduct in the workplace towards a

The FWC in its decision noted that the employer in the past had taken a lenient approach
to staff management and that the disciplinary process followed in this instance had
imperfections. However, the Deputy President highlighted that the business was
attempting to turn around culture and staff management after a new General Manager
took over the business, and in this instance there was a valid reason for termination and
the process followed was fair and reasonable, given the circumstances.

Key Takeaways for Employers

  • Have a well drafted social media policy which clearly sets out appropriate
    behaviour and conduct as well as the types of disciplinary action which may be
    faced if the policy is breached.
  • Inappropriate conduct related to social media use may be a valid reason for
    disciplinary action, including termination.
  • Employers must ensure they apply their policies consistently and ensure
    inappropriate behaviour and conduct is dealt with sooner rather than later.

    The CCIWA Employment Lifecycle Kit includes a template Social Media Policy. Contact
    CCIWA’s Employee Relations Advice Centre team on 9365 7660 or email
    [email protected] for further information.

Article by CCIWA

James Linn
Employee Relations Adviser

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