A recent case involving an interior designer who lost his job after using his LinkedIn profile to promote his out-of-hours design business highlights the consequences of being irresponsible when using social media, particularly when such use conflicts with an employee’s duties to their employer.
Upon hearing about the LinkedIn email in which Bradford Pedley expressed his intentions to develop his sideline business into “a full-time design practice”, Mr Pedley’s employer, Canberra-based architectural firm Peck Von Hartel, dismissed him.
Mr Pedley argued unfair dismissal in the Fair Work Commission (FWC); however, the Commission upheld the employer’s decision.
To safeguard themselves against such issues, employers should ensure that they implement appropriate social media policies and non-compete provisions in their employment contracts to prevent their employees from soliciting clients and/or customers.
In another recent FWC case, an employee used their Facebook page as a forum for posting damaging comments about their employer’s payroll department. The employer subsequently found out and sacked the employee. Again, the employee claimed unfair dismissal in the FWC but failed. The FWC held that, even in the absence of appropriate social media policies, it was not appropriate for an employee to draft threats against other employees on their Facebook page. It was no defence to the employee that the comments were posted outside of work hours.
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The FWC maintained that the employee’s conduct amounted to serious misconduct and could be interpreted as a repudiation of the employment contract and therefore the employer was justified in treating the employment contract as terminated and had the right to dismiss the employee.
These cases clearly demonstrate that the line between an employee’s private life and work is becoming increasingly blurred by social media and the law of employment is being forced to respond accordingly.
Creating solid employment contracts and employee policies can regulate the use of social media and implement rules around client contact.