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Public Servants warned to monitor their Facebook usage

Australia’s public servants are being warned to monitor their Facebook usage under new guidelines announced today as part of the Federal Government’s social media policy.

The Australian Public Service Commission's social media guidelines have been updated to include disciplinary action for public servants who criticise their own departments online and who fail to delete comments or posts by other people on their pages.

The dangers of Facebook: Valid grounds for dismissal

“While this new policy may seem undemocratic and appear to intrude upon an employee’s right to express themselves even outside of work, under current workplace laws breaching a workplace policy may be a valid reason for dismissal,” warns Shine Lawyers' Workplace Relations Law expert Christie Toy.

“The issue here is about bringing the Government into disrepute in a public way. You may think you are just clicking on an “angry face” emoji but that’s a powerful statement these days and says volumes,” explains Ms Toy.

“Even if the offending post or ‘like’ is made or posted outside of work hours, this may constitute a valid reason for dismissal if it causes serious damage to the employment relationship or damages the employer’s interest.”

“If the employer has a clear policy setting out what is considered acceptable, an employee will find themselves in an even harder position to argue their dismissal was unfair. Public Servants are often subjected to a greater degree of control by their employer over their private life due to the operation of public service legislation.”

How you can protect yourself

  1. Make sure your workplace is not listed publically on your profile.
  2. Set your Facebook account to “friends only”.
  3. Set the function on your account so that you need to approve any tagging by friends in articles or comments.
  4. Think carefully about any comments or clicks, and keep the policy guidelines in mind.
“We often get calls from workers who are dismissed after making comments on social media or in public forums deriding their employer. If there is a policy in place that is well documented and displayed and workers are made aware of it – then there is no excuse,” said Ms Toy.

“It is disturbing that there is this blurring of the line between public and private lives and what you can do and say on your days off work. But social media brings your opinions into a public sphere 24/7 and there is certainly a risk there for employees.”

For more information on what constitutes unfair dismissal, visit our dedicated unfair dismissal claims page.

Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: September 26, 2018.

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