Failing to Acknowledge a Social Media Workplace Policy May Lead to Dismissal

In Pearson v Linfox Australia Pty Ltd[2014] FWC 446, Commissioner Gregory of the Fair Work Commission (the “FWC”) recently upheld the dismissal of Mr Pearson, an employee of Linfox Australia Pty Ltd (“Linfox”), for failing to acknowledge his understanding of the Social Media Workplace Policy implemented by Linfox(the “Social Media Policy”).

Mr Pearson argued that he did not wish to sign the forms acknowledging the company’s Social Media Policy as it also applied to hours outside of work. He stated:

“as Linfox do not pay me or control my life outside of my working hours, they cannot tell me what to do or say outside of work, that is basic human rights on freedom of speech…”

 The FWC did not agree with Mr Pearson’s argument that he should not be controlled outside of work hours and added that where the Social Media Policy intended to protect the reputation of the company, the company was well within its rights to implement such a policy.

With respect to the implementation of a company’s Social Media Policy only being applicable during workplace hours, Commissioner Gregory stated

“…     It is difficult to see how a social media policy designed to protect an employer’s reputation and security of the business could operate in an “at work” context only.”

Whilst the primary reason for Mr Pearson’s dismissal was his failure to sign a form that he understood the Linfox Social Media Workplace Policy, the FWC found that Mr Pearson’s dismissal from Linfox was not harsh, unjust or unreasonable on the basis that he had previously breached other workplace policies of Linfox.

The decision by the FWC does not mean that employers have free reign to create policies that cover an employee’s absolute use of social media, however, it does protect employer’s reputation and confidentiality where there are legitimate interests.

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