By MARK PEARSON
Australia’s Fair Work Commission this week (December 10) added to its developing body of social media case law by upholding the sacking of a worker who described himself as a ‘dinosaur wrangler’ at ‘Jurassic Park’.
The latest is cited as:
Cameron Little v. Credit Corp Group Ltd  FWC 9642 (U2013/11522) 10 December 2013. < http://decisions.fwc.gov.au/ >
‘Dinosaur Wrangler’ sacked from ‘Jurassic Park’. Photo: Flickr (free to use or share)
C.L. had worked as a customer relationship manager for Credit Corp Group for three years when in June 2013 he used his personal Facebook account to criticise an organisation he dealt with on behalf of his employer (Christians Against Poverty (CAP)) and to make sexually suggestive comments about a new colleague. L. had listed his employment on his Facebook account as a ‘Dinosaur Wrangler’ at ‘Jurassic Park’ but other details on his page made it possible to identify him as an employee of the Credit Corp Group. He dealt with Christians Against Poverty when the not-for-profit group was negotiating new debt arrangements with Credit Corp on behalf of their clients. He posted to their page:
‘For reals bro, you should put a little more of funding into educating consumers on how the world works rather than just weaseling them out of debt, blah blah blah, give a man a fish/teach a man to fish.’
‘No thanks, just take my advice and try to educate people about things like ‘interest’ and ‘liability’ rather than just weasel them out of contracts. #simple’
L. posted the following comment about his new work colleague:
‘On behalf of all the staff at The Credit Corp Group I would like to welcome our newest victim of butt rape, [colleague’s name]. I’m looking Forward to sexually harassing you behind the stationary cupboard big boy.’
The day after the posts came to the attention of his employer, he was called to a meeting where his employment was terminated. Two weeks later he filed a claim for unfair dismissal.
Fair Work Commission Deputy President Peter Sams ruled the dismissal had been fair, pointing to the following relevant factors:
- L. had been issued with the Employee Handbook and the Employee Code of Conduct and made aware of their contents.
- He had attended an induction at the commencement of his employment in 2010 and a ‘Working Together’ module in August 2012.
- His employment contract stated that the company’s policies and procedures were directions from the employer to the employee.
- He had the ability to access and change the privacy settings for his account.
- It was irrelevant that L. had created the social media posts out of work hours.
- It was implausible that L. believed his Facebook page was ‘private’ and he did not understand how Facebook worked.
- He had been formally warned about an earlier incident where he had posted an inappropriate comment to a website.
The decision affirmed earlier Fair Work decisions in the Good Guys case (2011) and the Linfox case (2012). Those in the position of employer need to ensure all staff are fully aware of – and trained in – your organisation’s social media policy and that it is fair and up to date. Employees need to keep abreast of their organisation’s social media policy and ensure their social media accounts are set to private and that they do not post material related in any way to their work – and certainly not anything that is discriminatory or critical of colleagues, management or clients. This applies both during work hours and when off duty.
Co-author Mark Polden and I will be using this as a Key Case in a new chapter on Law for PR, Freelancers and New Media Entrepreneurs in our forthcoming fifth edition of The Journalist’s Guide to Media Law (Allen & Unwin, 2014), due for release mid-year.
© Mark Pearson 2013
Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.