Effective Management of Workplace Disrepute by Employees

As Benjamin Franklin once said, “Glass, china, and reputation are easily cracked, and never well mended.” It is commonplace in the modern workplace for contracts of employment to include terms giving the employer the right to terminate the employment relationship if the employee brings the employer’s business into disrepute. But how is one to judge whether damage has been suffered to one’s reputation?

The answer is not always as simple as one might first assume.

With the rise of social media and other ‘instant’ sources of publication, the ability for content harmful to a business’ reputation to go viral is at an all-time high. However, whether this has any nexus with the employment relationship is worth considering closely.

For employers, the probability of their employees posting, or being tagged in, posts containing content that could be said to bring disrepute upon their workplace is an evergrowing risk.

Few areas of an individuals’ life are now fully led behind closed doors. Such was certainly so for Scott McIntyre, the former employee of and reporter for the SBS, who was famously sacked for his Tweets surrounding ANZAC Day. The SBS did not appreciate being associated with those Tweets (McIntyre’s Twitter profile referred to the fact that he was an SBS journalist).

More recently, there has been the concern expressed by the Sydney Roosters rugby league team and the National Rugby League about the alleged private activities of the Roosters captain, Mitchell Pearce, which found their way into the public domain via social media.

An example that this article will consider is personal recreational drug use, and its causal link with, and repercussions that it might have on, an individual’s workplace, particularly when linked through online forums.

At the click of a button, social media content can be instantly published, with audiences often measured in the thousands (or more). Social media rarely requires the approval of all concerned before publishing occurs, creating breeding grounds for morally questionable content. Naturally, it has been a struggle for Australian courts to respond to this, in the face of the sheer amount of content being posted by Australians to social media sites. Read the full article here.

By John Wilson, Managing Legal Director, Employment Law, and Kieran Pender.

First published in Ethos, the ACT Law Society’s journal.