Employers should be wary when launching or proposing disciplinary or dismissal proceedings against an opinionated employee who has engaged in public debate, warns employment and human resources advisors Australian Workplace Strategies.

Australian Workplace Strategies Mr Jim Parke says while the employers of high-profile individuals such as rugby player Israel Folau could argue there’s a connection between an employee’s personal views and employment, some employees could argue not to have reputational obligation to their employers.

“Industry professionals such as lawyers or journalists may not owe a broad reputational obligation to their employers, so their rights to certain freedoms such as freedom of expression or religion may still apply,” Mr Parke says.

“Employees might operate personal, not professional social media accounts, or warn people ‘all views are my own’ in their bios, to make it clear they may be sharing views.

“If an employer wants to go down the track of disciplinary or dismissal proceedings with an employee based on social media postings or public debate, they are best to seek independent advice at the earliest opportunity.”

A good workplace advisor such as the professionals at Australian Workplace Strategies would review any relevant contracts, codes of conduct and internal policy documents that mandate expectations of an employee’s behaviour when forming a view on what an employer’s next steps could be.

“Sometimes employers can get heated about an employee’s behavior in public,” Mr Parke says.

“Although an employer may be concerned about how an employee presents themselves in public, that employer must still act reasonably and legally when choosing whether or not to respond.
“Sometimes it is best not to respond directly.

“Instead an employer could issue a general reminder to employees to follow internal policies and codes of conduct and also remind them where to find any relevant documents.”