Online jibes could cost you your job
Sky Television journalist Eric Young made national headlines after a tweet posted in response to Nadzeya Ostapchuk's positive drug test.
The expletive-filled tweet read, “Dear Nadzeya, You f...... cow. Hand it over you b...., Love New Zealand”. While the tweet accurately captured much of the nation's reaction to Valerie Adams being robbed of her golden moment, what was he on? Young is an award-winning journalist with more than 30 years experience - surely he should have expressed himself in a more circumspect, less colourful way.
Young is no stranger to the odd incident in the course of his employment. He previously made headlines when, last August, he was broadcast on Prime News giving the fingers to the camera. Young had just finished reading the sports news, which ended with a reference to a match between Counties Manukau and Auckland.
The gesture was no doubt intended as a bit of in-house banter between Young and a colleague, but unfortunately for Young, the camera was still on him at the time.
Young was not disciplined for his two-fingered salute. He simply apologised for his actions and life continued as normal. Sky Television head of corporate communications Kirsty Way was quoted at the time as saying that the decision not to take disciplinary action was made on the basis that Young did not intend his gesture to be broadcast. He is certainly not the first broadcaster to have slipped up on air, believing the camera to be off.
What then of Young's most recent actions? The offending tweet was promptly removed and Young later tweeted: "Sorry if some of you didn't appreciate my passionate language but the truth is Val had her moment stolen by a cheat”. Further, Young tweeted from his own personal account and not in his capacity as a Sky Television employee.
Generally what an employee does in their personal time is not relevant to their employment. However, when an employee's out-of-work conduct has an impact on their employer's image and reputation, or damages the employer's trust and confidence in them, an employer is potentially entitled to take action.
Young has a public profile inextricably linked to his role as the news presenter on Sky and Prime News, and more recently, Prime Television's Olympic coverage. Such a tweet arguably has the potential to bring Sky Television into disrepute as it may appear to the public that the company condones that type of language and the stance taken by Young. Sky Television was quoted as saying that this was definitely not the case - “it was disappointing to see that language used in a tweet and it certainly is against Sky Television's policies to use language like that”.
Employees need to think carefully about any comments they choose to make in social media forums that could be connected in any way to their employment. A NZ Post employee, for example, was recently dismissed for comments made on his blog and two Facebook pages.
The pages also contained critical comments about customers. Other employees had also posted comments on these sites. NZ Post considered that his actions had damaged its reputation or had denigrated and humiliated another employee.
This case is before the Employment Relations Authority, which has yet to decide whether the dismissal was justified or not.
The best advice for employees is to refrain from making any work-related comments on their Twitter or Facebook accounts. All that is needed is a little common sense. Would you say what you are posting or tweeting to your boss' face? If not, then do not post or tweet it. And don't tweet while drinking or taking other performance-affecting drugs.
Twitter is a public forum and your employer could read what you tweet. While Facebook has more security settings, it is not always as private as you might think. The NZ Post employee thought his sites were accessible only by his friends. He has found out the hard way they were not.
As for Young, we don't know whether he has been disciplined or not, but next time he may think twice about being a twit-ter.
- Susan Hornsby-Geluk is a partner with Chen Palmer, public and employment law specialists.