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The Age

Unfriendly fire: pitfalls of posts on Facebook

Author: By LAURA DOUGLAS. Laura Douglas is a Melbourne-based lawyer.
Date: 07/12/2011
Words: 557
Source: AGE
          Publication: The Age
Section: News
Page: 17
Social networking sites are not the place to air one's workplace grievances.

FAIR Work Australia recently upheld the sacking of an employee who posted an offensive anti-work rant on his Facebook page. Frustrated by problems sorting out his pay, the Good Guys employee posted that he "wonders how the f--k work can be so f--king useless and mess up my pay again. C--ts are going down tomorrow."

When his manager viewed the Facebook post, he established that a number of the employee's Facebook "friends" were also his colleagues. These "friends" and others would have been privy to the employee's comments.

When the employee returned to work, his manager advised him that he could no longer be employed by the Good Guys. Some months later, when the matter was heard at Fair Work Australia, deputy president Swan agreed.

It was irrelevant that the employee had made the comments from his home computer and out of work hours. The comments had been read by his work colleagues. A Facebook post is impervious to business hours and the working week.

In his decision, the deputy president came to a familiar conclusion: that the separation between home and work is now less pronounced than it once was.

If the experience of our American employment law counterparts is anything to go by, we can expect an increase in the number of disgruntled workers turning to social media forums to vent their frustrations regarding their employment.

Dedicated websites such as jobitorial.com and jobacle.com have been popular in the US for some years. These websites provide employees with a platform on which to anonymously post their reviews and frustrations regarding their employers.

A perusal of some of these sites indicates that the posts frequently use hateful language and make derogatory comments about organisations and individuals.

While many of these posts are anonymous and do not explicitly identify the employer, one questions whether colleagues and friends might nonetheless be able to recognise the authors and the focus of their rants.

Careful and considered reflection is not, after all, a common feature of online forums and prudent editing is rarely synonymous with a "rant".

In Australia, most online "work rants" that come to the attention of employers are posted on mainstream social media forums like Facebook, but it would seem only a matter of time before we see similar "work rant" websites appearing here.

Employers will need to anticipate this development and be aware of the potential risks to their reputation and liability under anti-discrimination and occupational health and safety laws.

A general review of workplace social media and internet policies is timely, particularly since recent amendments to the federal Sex Discrimination Act have clarified that sexual harassment or unlawful discrimination undertaken by way of technologies such as social networking sites come within the protection of the act.

The ease with which users engage with social media, the pace and the frequency of posts, invites the kind of mindless ranting that tripped up the Good Guys employee.

The problem with ranting online, rather than at the pub after work, is that the online rant achieves a kind of permanency over which the author loses control.

Once posted, the rant can go anywhere and to anyone. It lingers longer than the bitter aftertaste of an ill-conceived comment over drinks.

Laura Douglas is a Melbourne-based lawyer.

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