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Commission finds inappropriate social media use formed valid reason for dismissal

A recent decision of the Fair Work Commission has confirmed that an employee’s inappropriate use of social media group chats may form a valid reason for dismissal, particularly when matters relating to work are discussed.

A recent decision of the Fair Work Commission (FWC) has confirmed that an employee’s inappropriate use of social media group chats may form a valid reason for dismissal, particularly when matters relating to work are discussed.

In Roche v The Trustee For The Dolphin Hotel Unit Trust [2024] FWC 606, the FWC upheld the dismissal of an employee who used two online messaging platforms to criticise management and incite a negative workplace environment.

The employee was employed as a Bar Supervisor for Trustee for the Dolphin Hotel Unit Trust (the Employer).

The FWC heard that in or around August 2023, the Employer met with the employee to discuss customer complaints against her and a recent change in her behaviour, which included ignoring management decisions or requests.

The employee agreed that there had been a decline in her performance and that she was no longer enjoying work as much as before but, she stated that she would put in effort to improve her customer interactions moving forward.

In or around October 2023, the employee attended a bar supervisors meeting in which the Employer stated that a focus needed to be placed on customer and quality service standards, following procedures, and being seen as “one team” supporting management decisions.

Not long after this meeting, the Employer received reports that the employee had criticised the management team in a social group chat on Facebook, which was set up by employees to discuss events and matters relating to work.

The Employer subsequently counselled the employee on appropriate social media use, however she continued to “vent her own opinions” about management on the Facebook social chat.

The employee then began excluding certain employees who she considered managerial from a staff group chat on WhatsApp. In doing so, she sent a message in the chat stating that it was a “management free space for [employees] to vent” and she wanted it to “stay that way”.

The employee continued using the WhatsApp group chat to express her opinion on management cutting shifts when they are “mad at staff” and encouraged others to “communicate [their] frustrations” to management as well.

The Employer became concerned that the employee’s comments in the Facebook and WhatsApp chats were inciting a negative and combative environment amongst the team, and that her comments were encouraging negativity towards management.

The employee was eventually dismissed from her employment due to her continued decline in behaviour and attitude as Bar Supervisor and her conduct in the group chats which the Employer considered created a “divisive atmosphere” between staff and management.  

Before the FWC, the employee conceded to her behaviour being inconsistent at times but submitted that her dismissal was unfair given the group chats were not related to work but were rather a “social chat with friends”.

The FWC disagreed with the employee, finding that the group chats were “clearly related to working at the [hotel]” and “there was no sensible basis for describing the group as a private group chat”.

The FWC considered the employee’s conduct in the online chats to be particularly inappropriate given she held a supervisory position and had only just attended the bar supervisors meeting where the Employer set clear expectations about working together and supporting management decisions.

The FWC dismissed the application finding there was a valid reason for dismissal noting the employee’s overall performance was poor and her conduct in the group messages was the “straw that broke the camel’s back”.

Lessons for employers

Poor workplace behaviour can extend outside the workplace and include communication or comments made on social media platforms such as group chats. This decision serves as a reminder that inappropriate conduct on such platforms can form a valid reason for dismissal if they are sufficiently connected to work.

Employers should ensure their policies are updated to include guidelines on the appropriate use of social media. This may include an outline of the expected behaviour of employees when using social media both personally (i.e. TikTok, Facebook or Instagram) and professionally (i.e. LinkedIn).

Information provided in this blog is not legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Workplace Law does not accept liability for any loss or damage arising from reliance on the content of this blog, or from links on this website to any external website. Where applicable, liability is limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation.

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