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Social media and dismissal. Watch what you say and do online.

What you say and do on social media may affect your employment. Whether you believe social media is a private or public sphere may not change the actions that can be taken against you if your posts breach school policies or the law.

An article in The Conversation by Robards and Graf studied hundreds of legal cases to find out Who really gets fired over social media posts?

In their study of 312 news articles where people had been fired because of social media posts, they concluded that people just need to accept the reality that what you say and do on social media can be used against you.

Employers can use public access to social media to view employees posts, images and views and if they find them in conflict with their social media policies or defaming the school, its employees, students or families, employees may face disciplinary action.

Social media is a double-edged sword. It can be used to hold people to account for discriminatory views, comments or actions. But Robard’s and Graf’s study also raised important questions about privacy, common HR practices and how employers use social media to make decisions about their staff.

Schools also need to be aware of their own legal limitations when issuing contracts demanding employees to sign and comply with rules that may effectively put an employee’s social media content in breach of that contract and potentially lose their job.

The Citipointe Christian College in Brisbane is one example where teachers where asked to sign employment contracts that warn they could be sacked for being openly homosexual. Families were also asked to sign a statement of faith that implied transgender students would only be recognised by their “biological sex”, and which described homosexual acts as “immoral” and “offensive to God”.

Legal experts and the Independent Education Union’s Queensland and Northern Territory branch called on the contracts to be reviewed as: “These exemptions are inherently unfair, out of step with modern community expectations and disproportionately affect the very sectors of society discrimination legislation is intended to protect.”

As a teacher or support staff, what can you say and do?

The eSafety Commissioner says: “It’s important for all staff to follow procedures, codes of conduct and employment contracts. Staff are encouraged to seek advice from their school leadership team or union organiser if in doubt about the appropriateness of online conduct and/or to report the unprofessional behaviour of colleagues.”

In the IEU article Social media, teachers and the law published September 2020, we stated that ‘trash talking’ your employer, your students or your colleagues on any social media platform is unacceptable, as this breaches your duty of fidelity to your employer. This still applies.

The law is also clear that inappropriate conduct on social media towards work colleagues or students is something that an employer can control, even when you do it away from work.  It can result in the employer being legally liable for your actions and may constitute workplace bullying or harassment.  It is also a breach of your duty of care to students.

How do you navigate this legal minefield?

We recommend reading the eSafety Commissioner’s Fact Sheet eSafety Toolkit for Schools: Creating safer online environments, you can read this here: https://www.esafety.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-02/educate_6_-_tips_for_staff_using_social_media.pdf

This fact sheet sets out guidelines on tips for professional, personal and classroom social media use.

The eSafety Commissioner also has a dedicated resource page for educators here https://www.esafety.gov.au/educators

If you have any questions or concerns about social media impacting you at school, please contact our office on 8410 0122 or enquiries@ieusa.org.au

 

Sources and further reading

https://theconversation.com/who-really-gets-fired-over-social-media-posts-we-studied-hundreds-of-cases-to-find-out-182424

https://ieusa.org.au/social-media-teachers-and-the-law/

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2022/mar/21/citipointe-christian-college-teachers-threatened-with-dismissal-for-expressing-homosexuality

https://www.esafety.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-02/educate_6_-_tips_for_staff_using_social_media.pdf