Big Brother is watching . . . social media

SNEAKY HOLIDAY: Don’t post a selfie from the beach if you’re throwing a sickie. Council and health board workers are ...
MARK TAYLOR/FAIRFAX NZ

SNEAKY HOLIDAY: Don’t post a selfie from the beach if you’re throwing a sickie. Council and health board workers are among those who have faced disciplinary action following social media postings that came to the attention of their employers.

Sneaky holidays, snide remarks and sensitive information.

Waikato workers who aren't thrilled with how things are going in their workplaces need to be wary of expressing their discontent on Facebook and other social media.

Chances are their bosses are covertly monitoring what they are saying.

And if their employers happen to be the Waikato District Health Board or many of the region's councils, that is almost certainly the case.

An official information act request from the Waikato Times to each of the councils and the health board for details covering the last three years has yielded some illuminating results that show just how closely the organisations are watching their staff's online activities.

The health board appears to have been particularly vigilant, with nine staff facing disciplinary action as a result of things they have posted online.

Although the board's acting human resources general manager Greg Peploe declined to name the staff concerned - they are each identified as "health professional" - the list of offences they have been disciplined over covers a wide range.

The most recent misdemeanour, in July this year, was for "negative comments about workplace" on Facebook. No official warning was issued to the staff member, however he or she was directed to take clinical supervision, Peploe said.

The health board appears to be particularly sensitive when it comes to criticism of its senior staff.

In May 2012 an employee posted "inappropriate comments about a senior colleague" on Facebook. Two other staff "liked" the comments. All three were spoken to about their inappropriate actions.

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Other offences included someone who wrote "derogatory and inappropriate comments on Facebook about work colleagues" - for which a written warning was issued and the staff member was transferred to another ward.

In June 2012 another staffer wrote comments on Facebook "regarding [a] controversial matter linking Waikato DHB, Nursing Council and Wintec, with potential to bring all into disrepute". Although further details of the comments were not revealed, Peploe said no formal warning was issued, although the allegation was upheld.

On two occasions, in February this year and September last year, two health board staff members posted pictures of themselves on Facebook on holiday: which would not be a crime if they had not been taken on days which staff concerned had claimed as sick leave.

One of the two workers was issued with a written warning.

The other had been asked to attend a disciplinary meeting, however he or she resigned - with immediate effect - before that meeting could take place.

Two other staff members had been less than discreet with their patients' details.

One, in July 2012, had posted an unidentified patient's clinical notes on Facebook, while another had made comments about another unnamed patient on a website's message board. In both cases no formal warnings were issued, although one staffer had the inappropriateness of his or her comments pointed out to them, while the other was given a "performance improvement plan".

Peploe explained the board was able to monitor the use of social media by staff if they were on work equipment, be it computers, tablets or mobile phones.

"Our IS department is responsible for that. Media and Communications monitor social media postings where postings use words such as Waikato DHB, Waikato Hospital, Thames Hospital, etc. That may be staff or members of the general public.

"It is impossible for Waikato DHB to monitor the social media use of staff on their own equipment."

Hamilton City Council organisational development general manager Olly Te Ua was far less forthcoming about his organisation's observations of online activities.

"There has been one staff member who has faced disciplinary action as a result of their activities on social media since the social media policy was approved [in September 2013].

"We are unable to provide the outcome of this action under Section 7 (2) (a) [of the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act] - release would infringe the privacy of natural persons."

Otorohanga District Council chief executive Dave Clibbery was also keeping the one issue he had relating to social media under wraps.

"One anonymous public complaint was made in 2014 regarding alleged inappropriate posting on social media by an unidentified council staff member," he said.

"The complainant requested that the complaint remained confidential and hence it cannot be released."

The Waitomo, Hauraki, Waipa, South Waikato, Thames-Coromandel and Matamata-Piako district councils and the Waikato Regional Council all had no record of any disciplinary matters relating to social media.

For some, the task of monitoring what their staff were up to was easier than others.

"Social media is not available on Matamata-Piako District Council's network, and as such this does not require monitoring," communications officer Adele Preston said.

mike.mather@fairfaxmedia.co.nz

Have you or someone you know got into trouble through something said or posted on Facebook or Twitter? Tell us about it. Contact reporter Mike Mather at mike.mather@fairfaxmedia.co.nz to share your story.

 - Waikato Times

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