When a Linfox employee made disparaging comments about company managers on his Facebook page, the company fired him for serious misconduct. The employee applied to Fair Work Australia for unfair dismissal. The Commissioner sided with the employee. Why? Because Linfox did not have a policy covering employee use of social media. In the complete absence of a policy defining appropriate conduct, the employee could not be guilty of any misconduct. (Linfox Australia Pty Ltd v Fair Work Commission and Glen Stutsel [2013] FCAFC 157)

If you have questioned whether or not you need a social media policy, the Fair Work Australia decision should be plenty of impetus to get one started. A social media policy will not only protect the company in employment cases such as the Linfox case, it will also serve as an important tool for avoiding defamation claims.

Social media is a double-edged sword. Rapidly evolving, existing platforms include; LinkedIn, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter. It has tremendous benefits in terms of marketing, recruiting, developing relationships between employees, promoting products and many other valuable business functions.

There is however the other side and sharp edge of this shiny sword. Social media opens the company to liability that can adversely affect the company’s reputation. It may expose the agency to breaches of commercially sensitive and confidential information. Employees can be adversely affected by cyber-bullying and harassment, subject to offensive comments and being targeted by other people.

In addition to these social platforms, there is also the issue of appropriate email usage. A recent case resulting in dismissal involved a mass email sent by the fired employee to 170 colleagues. The Fair Work Commission deemed the termination to be valid as the message accused several other employees of being ‘naive, deluded, stupid or selfish’. Further it included what was stated to be ‘highly emotive’ wording which expressed disapproval of company safety training, this language was perceived to be intimidating, isolating, humiliating and bullying towards those that attended the training. (Mr Andrew Pearce v Viva Energy Refining Pty Ltd [2017] FWC 3817),

A well-written policy will clearly establish the best practices for use of social media and the consequences of not following these acceptable practices. It helps to study other social media policies before drafting yours. There are a number of templates and examples online that you may be able to use to guide you. Key aspects may include clarifying:

  • What social media is
  • Who the policy applies to
  • The relationship between the policy and other internal policies i.e. Code of Conduct, Bullying and Harassment Policy, Privacy Policy for example
  • The practices for both official and personal use of social media
  • Accessing social media at work protocols
  • What to consider when using social media
  • Consequences of breaching the social media policy

It is important when developing your social media policy to consult with Human Resources / Employee Relations / Governance staff and other relevant internal / external parties with expertise in this area.