Think before you post

Workers should be aware of their employer’s policies if they intend to use social media, including outside work time, writes Henry Pill of Hall Payne Lawyers.

A lot of workplaces permit, or even encourage, use of social media in work time. But as a recent case involving a WBBL cricketer demonstrates, social media use at work or about work can have negative consequences for workers.

The suspension of Hobart Hurricanes wicketkeeper, Emily Smith for three months after a single post to Instagram showing a team line-up prior to a game, is a timely reminder for employees to consider any ramifications from social media use in the workplace. While Smith’s post was intended to be light-hearted, her employer, Cricket Australia, ultimately found that she had breached its anti-corruption code and handed out a heavy penalty.

While the experiences of top-level cricketers might seem a long way from your average workplace, there are lessons for all workers about social media use in the workplace. Like Cricket Australia, many employers have policies about social media. 

Some workplaces allow workers to use social media in the workplace but many have restrictions on the timing, frequency or type of use for a range of reasons.

In Smith’s case, a light-hearted shot from the team dressing room had a profound effect on her career!

Many employers have a prohibition of “excessive” social media use (such as using social media excessively, or at all) or a ban on using social media during safety-critical times or tasks.

Understanding when and how your employer permits social media to be used in the workplace is important if workers want to avoid breaching policies, even unintentionally, that could lead to disciplinary action including the potential for dismissal.

Protecting confidential information

Workers handling confidential information will likely be subject to policies and procedures designed to protect that confidential information which belongs to the company or clients or customers. In Smith’s case, the disclosure of a team line-up prior to its announcement appears to have been in breach of Cricket Australia’s Code.

When posting on social media at work, workers should be wary of the risks of inadvertently disclosing information which might be confidential.

This kind of information might include:

  • worker, client or customer names or contact details;
  • information which may amount to trade secrets or intellectual property of the employer; or
  • information which may be critical to workplace safety or security.

The best way for workers to stay on the right side of their obligations is to have a good understanding of their employer’s policies around social media use and confidentiality.

Social media use outside of work

Your social media behaviour outside of work can also impact your job. There are numerous cases of employees being sacked for comments they have made about their bosses, colleagues or the company they work for. Banter that at the pub on a Friday after work would just be usual venting, when posted on social media can result in losing your job.

In certain circumstances, posts or messages made outside of work time can create problems for workers. This might include:

  • posts detailing confidential work information;
  • posts about your workplace that could be disparaging or damaging to the employer’s reputation; and
  • posts about work colleagues, bosses or managers that are unfavourable or could even constitute bullying, harassment or discrimination.

In certain circumstances, even posts made outside of work time which have nothing to do with your employment might breach a social media policy or code of conduct. These can include posts or messages which might offend other people, be abusive, threatening or discriminatory.

What can you do to stay out of trouble?

There are a number of things you can do to make sure your posts don’t get you into trouble:

  • Read your employer’s social media policy;
  • Place a statement on your social media page that the page expresses your private views, not those of your employer;
  • Make sure you have tight privacy settings on your social media page so that it can only be viewed by friends and family;
  • Think before you post! Save a tweet/post in draft, sleep on it and see if you think it is a good idea in the morning;
  • Don’t post while affected by drugs or alcohol. Really, this is almost always bad and never as funny as it seems at the time.

This article is adapted from an a piece originally published at Hall Payne’s websiteIt is general advice only. For specialised assistance contact the AEU NT or Hall Payne.

The key points

  1. Read your employer's social media policy.
  2. Place a statement on your social media page that the page expresses your private views, not those of your employer.
  3. Make sure you have tight privacy settings on your social media page so that it can only be viewed by friends and family.
  4. If in doubt, don't post!

The key points

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