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.
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.