31 May 2018

Press release: Social media sackings step outside of the workplace

James Mattson, Practice Head of Workplace Law & Culture was interviewed on 3AW. Published in The Australian on 31 May 2018: Non-work ranting on social media ‘can kill a career’. Published in Lawyers Weekly on 7 June 2018: ‘Roseanne’ scandal shows bosses more willing to take hardline stance against keyboard warriors.

  • Employers increasingly citing “reputational” damage to dismiss employees whose social media posts and opinions are non-work related.

  • Cancellation of Roseanne sitcom highlights the growing “Hollywood effect” of blurring between work and private viewpoints.

Employers are reaching beyond the physical bounds of the workplace to discipline or dismiss workers who post offensive material on social media according to one of Australia’s leading employment lawyers.

"The cancellation of the Roseanne sitcom overnight highlights the perils of social media for the workplace", said James Mattson, Practice Head of the Workplace Law & Culture team at Bartier Perry and author of the employment chapter in leading text Social Media and the Law.

“The show was both a ratings and financial success but within hours of its star tweeting racially offensive material both ABC in America and Channel 10 in Australia had canned it,” said Mr Mattson.

“In the US and Hollywood there has been a move away from employers simply saying an individual’s social media posts ‘don’t reflect our views’ to saying, ‘that individual doesn’t belong in our workplace.’”

Mr Mattson said in Australia the debate about how far employers can reach in regulating employee (mis)use of social media in their private time is heating up.

“Many of us are no longer paid just to 'pack widgets. We are expected to promote the company, and our individual, brand," he said.

“Companies want to be good corporate citizens and are hyper-conscious of their reputation while clients are also expecting more from those they do business with. Finally, private online rants can easily travel online into the workplace putting a strain on relations with co-workers.

This adds up to employers being much more front foot in disciplining an employee for inappropriate, distasteful and offensive posts and tweets that may not directly relate to their workplace or co-workers,” he said.

Mr Mattson said client facing, high profile and senior employees are particularly at risk if they inappropriately rant on social media.

"Establishing a connection to the workplace may be easier than employees think. The debate though is how far down the chain does liability and risk fall? Is there a difference between an offensive social media post from a senior manager or a junior employee?

"Whatever your view, inappropriately ranting on social may not be career-enhancing behaviour", Mr Mattson cautions. "If you rant on social media without an eye on the bigger picture, you may just find yourself in peril".

Mr Mattson said businesses need clear robust policies on social media with training on real life scenarios to highlight what was playing out in Hollywood and beyond.