It's hard to shake off such an employment dispute. Once you're known as the person who described herself as "an expensive paperweight" it will come back to bite every time you want a job.
How private is private?
It's all well and good thinking that you only posted to a private audience. This does not guarantee that the content will not be disseminated any further, says employment lawyer Shirley Chan at Jennifer Mills & Associates.
Chan cites the Jarrod Hook v Steam Group case in the Employment Court where judge Christina Inglis noted: "How private is a written conversation initiated over the internet with 200 'friends', who can pass the information on to a limitless audience?"
What not to do
"[A] good rule of thumb to consider whether a post is appropriate is to think 'Would I share/say that to a prospective employer during an interview?'," says Chan.
While it's not uncommon to post on social media about your work, think about what you are posting. It's okay, says Chan, to share interesting articles/insights/posts about the organisation to boost the brand/show what the culture is like. But make it clear when you are sharing your own opinion, as opposed to spokesperson for the company.
● Negative comments about your job or clients/customers.
● Confidential company information.
● Posts that are inconsistent with your company's values.
● Deceptions, such as taking sickies.
Protect your reputation
It's important to protect your reputation as an employee. Always keep your personal posts professional and polite. You never know when an employer might see them.
"Google yourself to see what content of yours is online, including unprofessional posts you made many years ago, or were made about you, especially when transitioning to professional life," says Chan.
Recruiters and hiring managers routinely Google candidates, says Brien Keegan of Sprout. Some have access to software packages that can consolidate your public social media presence.
"Most recruiters are also very adept in Boolean searching on Google," says Keegan. It's not at all unusual for hiring managers to Google a candidate after reading their CV before offering them an interview, says Keegan. You may never know that you missed out on an interview thanks to your social media presence.
Recruiters searching for talent will also search social media looking for candidates, which is a good reason to keep your public presence professional at all times.
Check what groups/pages you are a member of. It's probably a good idea to sign off from groups that could suggest you have extreme views of any sort.
Avoid oversharing and be careful about liking, retweeting or engaging with controversial, offensive or political posts, Chan says.
Privacy and privacy
Employees are entitled to certain levels of privacy under the Employment Relations Act 2000 and the Privacy Act 1993.
The Employment Relations Act governs what an employer can and can't do, says Chan, and an individual's right to online privacy is covered by the Privacy Act 1993. For example, employers cannot ask for your password to a private social media account.
There is, however, no express right to online privacy in employment in the Privacy Act. "Despite an employee's expectation of online privacy, employers have a general right to monitor and address an employees' computer use, including social media activity," she says. Employers do need to have internet policies in place that convey their expectations.
Not during work hours
It's natural to want to check your social media at work. It may be locked down on devices owned by the business.
But with cheap data employees can simply use their own smartphones for social media purposes.
That may not be okay if it's during work time at the expense of productivity, says Chan. On the other hand, it is okay to use social media during work time to make professional relationships.
Courts have the final word
Over the past decade a growing number of social media related cases have been heard by the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) and Employment Court.
Employee Bruce Taiapa was found out over a fake sickie thanks to social media. When Taiapa was given three days off work instead of the five he asked for to attend a Waka Ama championship in Rotorua, he took the other two as sickies with an alleged damaged calf muscle. Taiapa's boss saw a photo of him on Facebook at the Waka Ama competition. His employer, Te Rūnanga O Turanganui A Kiwa, summarily dismissed him. The ERA upheld the decision.
Another case, which in part was about taking sickies, was Dickinson v Chief Executive, Ministry of Social Development. In that case the employee posted some of her favourite quotes such as "Hey boss, can I go home sick????" She also called herself a "very expensive paperweight who is highly competent in the art of time wastage, blame shifting and stationary [sic] theft". Combined with the employee's previous disciplinary record the Facebook comments were sufficient grounds for a justified dismissal the ERA found.
Friends on Facebook?
Employees need to be careful about becoming friends on social media with their employer/manager.
There is no clear-cut answer, says Chan. You need to consider the kind of relationship you have with your employer/manager.
Even if you do become friends it's important try and keep personal and professional boundaries. "This is often difficult when people include workmates as social media 'friends'."
Also beware of criticising your employer on social media if your workmates are part of the audience.
"Sharing information about your personal life can also put work colleagues in a difficult position."
Out in the open
● Recruiters can and do check candidates' social media.
● You can be fired for disparaging your employer on social media.
● Be careful what groups you belong to online.
● Don't boast online about taking sickies dishonestly. Beware of what you post. Even a joke could get you in hot water at work and all too many Kiwis have found themselves in employment disputes over their social media activity. Even posts made outside of work time can get you in trouble if they bring your employer into disrepute.