The expectation to maintain professionalism as an employee is a crucial responsibility. In the age of social media, the need to act in accordance with company policies and preserve company reputation has evolved into an assumed etiquette. The Fair Work Commission has seen an increase in employment termination due to the improper use of social media in the workplace. As such, it is crucial that employees understand how their behaviour on social media may detrimentally impact their employment contract.

Why is it important to monitor your social media posts as an employee?

It is expected that employers and employees practice appropriate etiquette on social media in order to uphold company standards.

In NSW, employers are bound by ethical codes contained within the Fair Work Act (No 28) 2009 (Cth) (‘Fair Work Act’). These codes impart values of “fairness” to prevent employers from acting in discriminatory ways. The Fair Work Act serves to protect an employee’s workplace rights. It also enforces provisions that support employees in unfair dismissal cases.

It is expected that employees act in accordance with company policies when maintaining an online presence. When an employee’s social media presence reflects negatively against their company’s image and reputation, the employer may take disciplinary action including terminating their contract of employment.

Folau v Rugby Australia: Codes of conduct and social media

In 2019, Rugby League player, Israel Folau was fired after Rugby Australia flagged Folau’s Instagram posts for homophobia. His contract was terminated because he breached the company’s code of conduct which prohibited players from partaking in discriminatory behaviour whilst employed.

Folau argued that he was unfairly dismissed because he was only wanting to express his Christian faith on his personal social media account. He brought the dispute to the Federal Circuit Court of NSW and claimed that his employment was terminated for a prohibited reason (i.e. religion) under s772 of the Fair Work Act. Folau argued that he had a right to freedom of expression on his own social media profile. However, Rugby Australia disputed this claim by asserting that employers have the capacity to regulate an employee’s behaviour both publicly and privately to ensure that they adhere to the company’s code of conduct.

The employer argued that Folau’s Instagram posts breached his employment contract and therefore resulted in his termination. His case demonstrates how employees can jeopardise their employment if their social media posts are against the ethical codes of company policy. To better understand the consequences of making defamatory or discriminatory social media posts, please refer to our blog for more information.

How should employees behave on social media?

When posting online, it is important to be aware of the following:

  • It is your responsibility to monitor and regulate your behaviour on social media platforms. Be sure to familiarise yourself with company policies and code of conduct so that you are not at risk of breaching codes of conduct.
  • Never disclose personal or propriety information belonging to an employer. Always seek permission before posting on behalf of another person.
  • To avoid your personal information from being revealed to your current or potential employer, check the privacy settings of your online profiles. Keep personal accounts, devices and internet searches completely separate to your work account.
  • Be aware of the consequences of posting inappropriate material. Your employer can use your social media posts to take disciplinary action against you.

How can Etheringtons Solicitors help?

A solicitor at Etheringtons Solicitors can provide clarification of the relevant law and its relation to your individual circumstances. If you need further clarification on employment law, or believe you may have behaved inappropriately on social media, please contact one of our experienced solicitors on (02) 9963 9800 or via our contact form.