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August 12, 2013 / Mervyn Dinnen

Can Facebook Really Help Solve Employee Misconduct Problems?

AirNZ

Had enough of debating about social media checking and whether we should use it when making hiring or promotion decisions? In the HR and Recruitment online networks we do seem to spend a lot of time talking about judging others by what they say on social media platforms. Whether it’s hiring managers looking to check out candidates as part of the recruitment process, or job seekers researching companies (and individuals) who they may wish to work for, there is always a healthy debate about how we interpret what others say.

Well maybe Air New Zealand have found a whole new use for it in dealing with ER issues.

They fired one of their flight attendants after she took sick leave to look after her sister. She took them to the Employment Relations Authority for unfair dismissal and AirNZ asked to see her bank accounts and have access to her Facebook page for the days concerned. She resisted as the company didn’t have these when they sacked her, and she felt they were private, but the ERA agreed with the company that she should hand them over to support her claim saying they would provide ‘substantially helpful advice’. As yet we don’t know the outcome.

Employment lawyers and employment commentators in New Zealand have been having their say:

“At a time when we think we are behaving privately or at least within a restricted circle of friends, we are actually effectively on trial”

“And the courts see Facebook as a wonderful asset because all of a sudden not only do we have the potential for pictures and so forth but . . . we can see what time statements were made and pictures were taken”

“Because while this is best evidence . . . doesn’t it creep you out a bit? It feels intrusive and just, frankly, wrong”

“Not only can often a picture tell a thousand words, but in disputes about when things happened Facebook quite often has a time stamp”

Social media updates may land you in trouble with your employers but may also be able to either corroborate or disprove whether you’re guilty of misconduct.

Are they ever really private?

And if not then can they be interpreted and used as an integral part of employee relations?

If so who judges context, syntax, intent or meaning?

And can we really take them seriously?

Let me know what you think…

(Image : Hobbit Safety Video)

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10 Comments

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  1. Paul Taylor / Aug 12 2013 8:59 AM

    Interesting case Mervyn and definitely one to watch. I hadn’t thought of social media being used to disprove an allegation!

    Not so long back I was having a drink with a friend who was bemoaning the fact that one of his employees had taken sick leave at a very busy time. Unbeknown to him (he doesn’t do socmed) his employee had been all over twitter and facebook for a good part of the week arranging a football tournament , talking about their holidays , you name it….

    My immediate impression , perhaps unfairly , was that this persons online behaviour was inconsistent with being ill. And if I was the employer I would have to act upon it. But my friend knew nothing about it at all.

    It raised a couple of things for me:
    What’s private? My personal view here is I don’t think anything posted online can be truly private
    What’s reasonable for an employer to know and use?
    Is being active on social media during sickness inherently unreasonable? You wouldn’t expect someone recuperating from surgery to not watch TV!

    I don’t have answers to these as I think it depends on context of individual case.

    But employees have to accept ( as do employers) that there is no real life and online life distinction – it’s all just life. And we need to be balanced and fair in dealing with these scenarios as there is often no clear right or wrong and certainly no precedents.

    • johnpopham / Aug 12 2013 9:33 AM

      There’s an interesting dilemma here. I almost posted that, just because someone is using social media doesn’t mean they are well enough to work. But then I had a second thought. I suppose it depends what the job is. If the job involves mainly sitting at a computer communication and reading and writing documents, maybe using social media is not a lot different. And maybe they have found a way of using social media while ill (lying in bed on an iPad, for example) which could also help them work more efficiently. As I say, a dilemma….

  2. As far as I’m concerned, we’re always on ‘stage’. My fb page is a good deal more ‘lively’ than Linkedin and so on, and I’m happy for people to see ‘all of me’.

    But I do agree with the ‘creepyness’ of this, when used to gather evidence. Posts to fb can be ‘ghosted’ and time delayed. Just cos you might be ill does not mean you cannot type a comment.

    I think the whole area of using social media to build a picture of what someone’s work style might be is somewhat questionable. I’m sure we’ve all been on holiday and done something mad. Does that mean we are an doubtful employee.

    Perhaps HR people should post their pictures of “Ibiza” on the company website?

    • Katrina Collier (@WinningImpress) / Aug 12 2013 10:54 AM

      Love your use of the term ‘on stage’ Peter! I often refer to my FB profile as my showreel as I use it to portray myself at my best but there are also many photos where I am holding a red wine, so perhaps I’m an alcoholic… or not. I completely agree with you that it’s questionable to build a picture of someone, whether good or bad, on how they portray themselves on social media.

  3. Tash / Aug 12 2013 10:00 AM

    The case hasn’t fully been disclosed yet, we don’t know the circumstances under which it was asked to disclose social media access. There could be a long history of sick leave misuse which could warrant further investigation, especially if more information came to light after the dismissal and the employee taking it to the ERA. This case has been a hot topic on all forums, but I think we shouldn’t get too far ahead until we can read the full case law on the issue and find out all the facts. But generally, FB is public domain, if you are sick, don’t be stupid and plan events, go to events or do anything that could be questionable. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for a sick person to make the odd comment on social media while sick, but again, excessive use of social media when you’re supposed to be sick is questionable. I think it all comes down to common sense for both the employee and the employer.

  4. rambling southern monkey / Aug 12 2013 10:50 AM

    I’ve seen this happen nearly 4 years back now when I was dealing with ER cases. Its amazing how much information you have access too. I guess you should always be careful who you accept as a friend on FB when you work with them. It does always seem that people are trying to catch each other out whichever side of the line you are, employer & employee. Its always going to be a difficult battle to know where to draw the line from private and public these days.

  5. Jacob Sten Madsen / Aug 12 2013 11:00 AM

    Whether we like it or not, agree or disagree, the minute something leaves a private domain and gets posted on in effect for most part a public forum, out goes any kind of privacy and claim to such. That there are privacy settings on FB does not mean that it remain private and anyone who knows what rights they truly have in respect to FB where everything sit on a California based server, will know that we are talking pseudo privacy, but that is all it is.
    Whether a good or bad scenario in respect to AirNZ case remain dependent on which side you are on, but should serve to millions as a reminder of what FB is and can do.

  6. Jacob Sten Madsen / Aug 12 2013 11:14 AM

    And if ever anyone in doubt about what things in ‘public life’ can lead to this is an example:

    Ignore and see only as an exaggerated gimmick at your peril, but then read that identity theft is up 300% in the last 4 years!
    SM is great and a huge help and tool in moderation.

  7. Mitch Sullivan (@mitchsullivan) / Aug 12 2013 2:22 PM

    All companies like this are doing is demonstrating what shitty places they are to work. Anyone who doesn’t get a job because a Recruiter/HR/Hiring Manager has seen them swear or appear in a picture holding a beer bottle, has probably dodged a bullet.

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