In February 2022, the Fair Work Commission upheld The Australian Council of Trade Union’s (ACTU) dismissal of an employee who was fired over Facebook posts that contained violent, homophobic, transphobic and racist content.
The media regularly report stories of well-known brands who have taken similar action over social media posts, and it’s not only large companies who are at risk of being negatively associated with what their employee’s say and do online.
So what can HR professionals learn from what the ACTU have experienced?
This blog post explores 5 lessons from the ACTU firing their employee over their Facebook posts.
1. Employers can fire employees for what they post on social media, but risk facing unfair dismissal claims
The deputy president of ACTU stated to the media that their employee’s behaviour on Facebook caused a serious risk to ACTU’s “critical reliance” on its brand and reputation.
The decision to fire the employee came 24 hours after his Facebook account was discovered, which contained:
- Posts praising violence against police at anti-vaccine mandate protests
- Disparaging comments about the Black Lives Matter movement
- Comments that referred to transgender people as demonic
- Posts that mocked domestic violence victims
Ultimately, the employee was fired due to their online behaviours being “completely inconsistent” with the ACTU’s values around diversity, equity and inclusion, their backing of public health orders and affiliation with the police union.
However, the employee then lodged an unfair dismissal claim with the Fair Work Commission, stating that his profile didn’t identify him as an ACTU employee and that his posts had very little reach.
2. People’s online behaviour can impact their employer, whether they identify them or not
In this instance, the Fair Work Commission found that ACTU was within their rights to fire the employee for the Facebook posts they made outside of work, despite the employee not identifying himself as one.
Their decision was upheld due to a number of reasons, including:
- The employee’s potential to negatively impact the union’s reputation
- The potential for a negative effect on the health, safety and wellbeing of other employees
- The employee’s conduct was incompatible with their duties
- Their conduct breached ACTU policies and was considered serious misconduct
Fair Work’s decision shows us that peoples’ online behaviour can negatively impact the organisations they work for, even if their affiliation is not immediately evident.
The same goes for people who do identify their employer, but make statements such as “opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect the views of my employer”. It’s a myth that these disclaimers will protect people from any consequences that come as a result of their online behaviour.
3. People’s online behaviour is often reflected in their conduct in the workplace
The way that people behave online can provide powerful insights into their attitudes, interests and values, and indicate the level of risk they may pose to employers.
In ACTU’s case, the employee was not only acting inappropriately online, but was also found to have been engaged in sexist behaviour in the workplace itself.
Considering the behaviours he exhibited online extended to the workplace, it’s fair to assume he was unlikely to be positively contributing to a healthy and welcoming work environment.
Like everything in human resources, having a proactive process to prevent bad hiring decisions is preferable to the alternative; public relations damage control and the other costs associated with bad hires.
4. Disciplinary actions related to employee social media conduct can be avoided
The actions of this employee put ACTU’s reputation and workforce at significant risk. However, the union can easily take steps towards preventing similar incidences from occurring in the future.
Dan Holman, CEO of CheckSocial said that:
“Our digital footprint checks have shown that 1 in 5 candidates will show some indication of being a bad hire and 1 in 10 could be considered high-risk. The employee at ACTU would most certainly have fallen into this high-risk category and their HR team could have avoided the hire had they known.”
The Facebook posts that were reported by the media would have been highlighted under all three of the cultural fit indicators we outline in our reports:
- Discriminatory behaviours: such as sexism, racism, transphobia and hate speech
- Unprofessional behaviours: such as strong language and online bullying
- Criminal behaviours: such as indications of violence and incitement
If the ACTU were to integrate digital footprint checks into their hiring process, they would have the tools to determine their candidate’s potential risks, cultural fit and alignment with their values.
5. Digital footprint checks can help you proactively prevent bad hires
The ACTU is not the first organisation to be negatively affected by an employee’s online conduct and unfortunately, they won’t be the last.
However, the good news is that digital footprint checks offer all organisations the opportunity to prevent bad hires, protect their reputation and cultivate safe, welcoming workplaces that reflect their values.
At CheckSocial, our digital footprint checks use a combination of powerful artificial intelligence and expert human analysis to highlight any red flags in your candidates’ online activity, whether it’s on social media, forums, the Dark Web, news stories and more.
Download a free sample report
To get an example of what a digital footprint check looks like, the information they include and the types of content they flag, you can download a free sample report.
The 23-page sample includes:
- A Candidate Risk Score and Cultural Fit Assessment
- An outline of our cultural fit indicators
- Examples of content that indicate discriminatory, unprofessional and criminal behaviours
- Examples of other candidate insights