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  • It is a long-standing principle that employers are entitled to discipline employees for certain ‘out of hours’ conduct.
  • Social media interactions made outside work on personal accounts can have a significant impact on the employment relationship and can lead to an employee being dismissed for misconduct.
  • Recent decisions relating to ‘off the clock’ use of social media serve as a warning to employees about possible repercussions in the workplace.

Social media has transformed the way in which people communicate. At times, social media interactions resemble ‘word of mouth’ chatter. We connect with friends, colleagues, and indeed strangers 24 hours a day through multiple social media platforms.

These communications are set out in written form – in some cases for the world to see – and there is no signpost that says, ‘employers keep out’.

Due to the public nature of social media interactions, we are seeing workplace issues arise when online posts hit media headlines. Late last year, a hotel worker made an offensive comment about Fairfax Media columnist Clementine Ford, on Ms Ford’s own Facebook account. The worker had listed the name of his employer (a hotel) in his Facebook profile. The employer became aware of the comment after Ms Ford tagged the hotel in a Facebook comment querying whether it was aware that an employee was making offensive comments. The hotel worker lost his job for making this comment (See: Megan Levy, ‘Hotel worker Michael Nolan sacked over Facebook post to Clementine Ford’, The Sydney Morning Herald (Online), 1 December 2015).

In June of this year, it was reported that a Deakin University professor who made comments on Twitter, in response to student comments on Twitter, was suspended from his position without pay after the University received complaints about the comments. He was suspended despite the professor making the comments on his own personal Twitter account and having nothing that identified him as being associated with, or indeed employed by, Deakin University. The Guardian reported that Deakin University told the employee that his comments were ‘offensive and/or disrespectful and/or threatening and had the potential to damage the reputation of the university’ (Amanda Meade,‘Deakin university journalism professor suspended without pay over tweets’, The Guardian (Online), 26 June 2016).

These two examples show how social media interactions made outside work, and on personal Facebook and Twitter accounts, can have a significant impact upon the employment relationship and can potentially lead to an employee being dismissed for misconduct.

This article is a brief review of some recent cases that relate to ‘off the clock’ use of social media and the associated workplace implications.

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