Bitching About Your Employer On Facebook Can Get You Sacked

It should be obvious that making a public comment about your boss on Facebook might lead to trouble. A recent decision by Fair Work Australia underlines that if you misbehave online and get sacked, you might not much have much in the way of legal legroom.

Picture by Nicola Jones

Fair Work Australia last week found that the Townsville branch of the Good Guys was within its rights to dismiss an employee after he made threatening comments about his co-workers on his Facebook page. Damian O'Keefe's comments followed a protracted period in which he had not been paid commission due. On 20 May 2010 he posted this comment on his Facebook page:

Damien O’Keefe wonders how the fuck work can be so fucking useless and mess up my pay again. C..ts are going down tomorrow.

O'Keefe's page didn't mention that he was employed by the Good Guys, but he did number 11 of his colleagues amongst his 70-odd friends. His choice of language appears to have exacerbated the issue, the administrative manager involved in the pay dispute was a female, Kelly Taylor.

O'Keefe's boss interpreted the comment as a threat and told O'Keefe the next day that he was treating it as a letter of resignation. That meeting, according to both sides, was unpleasant; O'Keefe claimed that his employer called him a "fat lazy c..t". O'Keefe was given termination pay, but a dispute remained over the payment of commission.

Fair Work Australia upheld the right of the Good Guys to dismiss O'Keefe in this instance. In terms of broader policy, this is the most notable part of its findings:

Rather than pursue the matter at a higher level within the respondent’s business, the applicant dealt with his frustrations by airing them on Facebook. The applicant was aware that there were other colleagues on his Facebook group who could see the comments made and this is precisely what happened. While Ms Taylor’s view of the applicant’s Facebook page on that day had been blocked by the applicant, there was no attempt made to block the viewing of other colleagues.

In other words: if any of your colleagues can see your Facebook posts, it could become an office issue even if you've taken care not to make your posts visible to just anyone.

Social networking in the workplace is tricky. We've argued before that your presence on Facebook shouldn't be a factor in whether you get hired in the first place. However, you do need to think very carefully before befriending colleagues, especially those you report to. It's all too easy for the whole process to backfire.

What personal policies do you apply to keep your online social life from wrecking your career? Ideas welcome in the comments.

Fair Work Australia [via The Australian]

Evolve is a weekly column at Lifehacker looking at trends and technologies IT workers need to know about to stay employed and improve their careers.


Comments

    Even though I don't have my boss on Facebook, I make it a rule to not bitch about work online. Ever. No exceptions.

      Heh, I'm not suggesting you do; but if you did, I somehow doubt you'd admit to it on this, or any of the Allure websites :P

    Seems fair enough to me! 'Like my momma says, stupid is as stupid does'..Forrest Gump #]

    And in other news: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/more-news/yarra-trams-driver-under-investigation-over-twitter-taunts/story-fn7x8me2-1226116992596

    LOL! This just happened to a guy at my work today. He had already resigned, and had 2 weeks to go until he left, but he was found to be posting stuff on Facebook about how bad the management was, so he got marched out today.

    doesn't the saying go something like "If you're not willing to stand in a very public place and shout it out at the top of your lungs don't post it on the intertubes"

      Dang son that'd be just plain embarrassin' Heh #]

    if you take Facebook (or social media) out of this, it's nothing new. If my boss caught me down the pub bad mouthing the company and people I worked with you can bet there'd be fallout when I got back to the office.

      yeah, but you can't get fired for talking to friends in a public venue..

        You can if you make a threat like 'tomorrow those c**ts are going down'.

    This kind of highlight the poor separation between work and personal lives. I doubt there's a person out there who hasn't had a whinge about their boss or work amongst their friends. I see this as nothing more than that, just one guy venting his frustrations with his workplace amongst his "friends". Unfortunately the lines between your "friends" and "colleagues" seems to have been blurred to the extent of non-existence. Had he not been "friends" with people in his workplace would the outcome have been the same? I doubt his phasing or intention of the statement would have changed at all, just the audience. "Friends" seem to have better understandings of other peoples language usage, sure this guy was very crass, but there was no consideration of how he talks amongst his friends as to determine the intent of this. I know lots of people who talk like this all the time, calling a group of people C..ts would be no worse than calling someone "mate", at the same time I know people who are the exact opposite, where if they had of referred to people as C..ts it would have been meant in the harshest terms possible. Again, it comes back to who "friends" are, where you work life is becoming far too invasive in your personal life.

      TLDR !

    The guy said he had set up the maximum privacy settings, which may be true, but what he clearly didn't do was set up friend lists (or Google Circles) in Facebook. Doing this would have saved his job. It's not hard to do, and as the people who have been fired for status updating about their huge weekend and calling in sick will tell you: Be selective with who you share with on FB.

    Hrmm. I admit I am not really knowledgeable on how facebook works, but it seems logical that the more 'friends' you add to your facebook list that aren't actually proper friends, the more likely it is that your jibber jabber is going to come back and bite you in the arse.

    So basically, if you're like my sister who adds just about everyone she has ever met to facebook, and for some twisted reason seem to think everyone is interested enough to warrant a copy of your personal commentary... then you deserve to any potential repercussions if you say something incendiary.

    If a guy at a restaurant is abusing his boss in a conversation, but he's speaking annoyingly loud and all the other tables can hear him, then clearly his obnoxious need for attention has taken over the common sense need for discretion when calling your boss a wanker. If that's the case then I don't think they deserve to be treated the same as a person who was saying the same thing in private and got ratted out.

    I think most people can associate with a person needing to vent against their boss, but it's also been my experience that even those people don't feel sympathy for obnoxious people.

    This is where Google + is useful - make a "colleagues" circle and exclude them from the status update. Problem Solved.

    My personal policy is not to friend people I work with, though.

      Facebook has "Circles" as well, but they call them Friends Lists, and unlike Google+ you don't have to put people in a list. You can just have them in thr global list.

    The word fucks alright to use on this site but not the C-word?

    I would have thought it was pretty bleeding obvious that bitching about your employer on any social networking site is going to get you sacked.

    It never ceases to amaze me how stupid people are.

    I've fired employees for stuff they did/said on Facebook. Anything the general public can see is fair game IMHO

    If the Good Guys had paid the guy what he was entitled to, when he was entitled to it, none if this would have happened! Shame in the Good Guys, maybe they should be re-named the Ripp-Off Guys.

    It's worth having a read of the FWA decision. While it seems obvious objectionable behaviour which has some connection to your work could get you in trouble, there's quite a bit extra that doesn't stack up well in the employee's favour.

    There's some contention about the employee's response during a meeting following the incident and how directed at members of staff his behaviour was.

    It's also worth noting that offense/misconduct amounting from objectionable conduct is to be taken in context.

    He didn't come off well in the cross either, by the looks of it. Claiming it was all separate from work and talking about privacy, but then having to admit you have 11 colleagues on your FB who could have seen it... Not such great work there.

    It was the last sentence that got him into trouble... even though I can relate to the frustration, making threats in public is not a good idea. Anyway, it's a shame that the Good Guys couldn't work through this issue with the employee as it hasn't won them any friends! I recently deleted my Facebook profile because of these sorts of complications with using their "service".

    I got fired for bitching on twitter. I'd been positive nobody from work would look at it since they'd all shown a distinct lack of interest in it during marketing meetings. But, they did, and it just so happened to be after the worst week I ever had there so I was voicing my anger pretty strongly.
    In a way I kind of don't see it as a bad thing since I was really unhappy there. The place is a managerial nightmare. But of course it didn't exactly do wonders for my self esteem. And income.

    What does the payroll person being female have to do with the comments he made? The wording on that is really poor, LH because it either implies that she made the mistakes with his pay because she's a woman, or the comments he made were only deemed offensive because she's a woman.

    But he is a fat lazy c..t

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