Hey PC brigade. Can I be an employee and still post on social media?

This is an issue that’s rearing its head more and more often. What can you say on social media? And more importantly, what can’t you say?

The law

Firstly, we tend to sometimes think of ourselves as an outpost of the good ol US of A, and think that that we too have an absolute right to free speech here in Australia. But we don’t.

There ARE some commitments to the right to freedom of political expression and other basic human rights, but we can’t say absolutely anything about anyone at any time – and not expect that there may be consequences..

Tell me more..

Most organisations these days have a social media policy. And organisations, if you don’t yet have one – you should. A social media policy generally sets out what your rights and obligations are as an employee of that organisation. That is, when a post could get you into trouble and what that trouble might look like.

Typically, the sorts of things that get employers cross about are where they have been listed as your employer .. and then you go onto post something that:

  • Damages their reputation in some way. For example, if you worked for a well known steak restaurant and you posted a series of posts on veganism and how meat eating is evil, your employer may rightly want to have a chat with you.
  • Is unlawful in some way. Australia has pretty clear rules around discrimination and provoking hate. If you want to post about something that does this, or is unlawful in some other way – be very careful.
  • Breaches confidentiality.. if you post about a big deal your employer is involved in before it becomes public, or about something that is bound by confidentially, be prepared for an unhappy employer.
  • Where it brings your ethics or impartiality into the spotlight. If you have a role where you’re required or expected to be impartial and unbiased, or if you have a job where you’re subject to ethical considerations, be careful about how what you post may be perceived and how this might impact the perception of you doing your role in an unbiased ethical manner. For example, the high profile copper who had an account where he posted racist, pornographic and other unsavoury commentary.
  • Breaches the trust of the employment relationship. For example, where you rant about what an arse your boss is (also – see “defamation”).

So what are the consequences??

Can an organisation tell an employee to not have a social media account or to not post to that account? No. There are limits as to what an employer can and can’t reasonably do. But it can ask that any posts are consistent with the principles detailed above.

And if an organisation does have a social media policy (or it’s written into the employee’s contract), depending on what the posts are – they can ask for the posts to be taken down. If the posts clearly go beyond what is appropriate, there can be disciplinary implications up to and including termination of employment.

There’s another consequence that often isn’t one initiated by the employer, but from community outrage over a public post. For example, where an employee has commented on a public post and that comment links back to their profile which shares their employer’s details. If as an employee, you are making illegal, unlawful or just very unsavoury comments – be aware that it is becoming more common for members of the public to “report” the post to your employer. And that often becomes untenable for an employer to not be seen to act.

The PC Brigade

The inevitable complaint is that we have all become so “woke” and PC. That no one can “take a joke” anymore. That we are all too PC. That you can’t say or do anything anymore.

Without going down that rabbit warren – as far as social media goes – if you’re an employee of a company and you proudly proclaim that on your social media posts, then be prepared for your employer to have an opinion about what you post. And if it’s unlawful or against what is considered reasonable community standards, or in some way brings your employer (which whom you have a contractual relationship) into disrepute or at a disadvantage  – then, again, be prepared for a conversation and possible consequences.

Social Media Tips for Employees (with thanks to this ABC article)

  • Familiarise yourself with your workplace’s social media policy
  • Avoid venting about your workplace or co-workers online
  • Regularly monitor and manage your profile
  • Check your privacy settings
  • Consider how your online footprint might impact your professional reputation or future career opportunities
  • Consider which friend requests you accept
  • Be careful what you “like”, favourite or re-tweet. If they have a negative impact on your employer’s reputation, your employer may be entitled to take action
  • Avoid excessive personal social media use at work

The Takeaway

For Leaders – Does your organisation have a social media policy? Is it up to date? Is it written in plain English so that everyone can understand it? Do your employees truly get what it means -what they can say, and what they can’t?

For Employees – have you read your social media policy? Do you understand the parameters and consequences? Check the tips above. Particularly those about longer term consequences.

More Reading..

Savills suspends employee for racist tweets

ABC’s Social Media Policy Cops Backlash

Social Media and Employment – Five Common Sense Rules  

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