What can seem like a harmless comment among friends or an innocent "status update" about the fun you are having when really you should have been at work, can end in disaster.
While the internet and social media are great ways to stay connected with friends and family, there are some hidden dangers, the effect of which can be serious if it impacts on your job.
There are four things which you, as an employee, should be aware of when it comes to posting a status on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and other social media sites.
The first thing to think about is whether you can log into social media during work hours. It's a good idea to check your employment agreement to find out what your employer's policy is in terms of accessing social media during work time. Employers may identify certain websites (such as Trade Me) or social media sites such as Facebook, as prohibited and they could be blocked. Excessive use of those websites may lead to disciplinary action or, as indicated by a recent employment case, losing your job.
The second aspect to be cautious of is posting about your job, boss or fellow co-workers on social media websites. In a recent case before the Employment Relations Authority, an employee's abusive comments about a co-worker on Facebook led to dismissal for serious misconduct following the co-worker's complaint.
By allowing the posts as evidence, it showed that Facebook exchanges can be taken into account by employers and the authority in investigating issues between colleagues - even if they occur outside the workplace. As an employee, you must therefore be very careful about what you say on Facebook, particularly about work colleagues.
Posting about your job raises the third issue: what you do on social media websites may not be simply between you and your friends. In another recent case, an employee's Facebook was accessible to the public. This meant that when he made comments about his employer on the site, those posts were taken very seriously. You, as an employee, owe duties of fidelity and loyalty to your employer. These duties aren't suspended just because you may have gone home for the day, especially when your social media profile is available for everyone to view.
Recent cases also highlight the fourth area to be wary of, which involves the use of your sick leave. In another case, which involved a disagreement between an employee and her employer about what she was doing while she should have been on sick leave, the Employment Relations Authority allowed the employee's Facebook details to form the basis of evidence as to what she did on that day.
Therefore, showing off about what you were up to, or rubbing it in to your fellow co-workers, when you really should have been at home getting better from your supposed illness, may seriously impact on your job.
To sum up, the safest way to avoid getting into hot water with your employer, which as the spate of recent cases illustrate, is to be very careful mixing social media and your employment. Doing so can have very serious consequences. Always be conscious of what you are posting and who can see those comments or photos.
Mixing work with your private life can be harmless. It's an area, however, where you should take a great deal of care. The popularity of social media means that the two are becoming more closely blended. When this is added to the public nature of the internet, you as an employee need to think twice before writing that "post" or uploading that photo.
Rachael Robertson is a partner in Christchurch law firm Corcoran French. Information given in this column is not a substitute for legal advice.
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