Australia: #PoliticalCorrectnessGoneMad?#auspol employees on social media

Key Points:

APS employers have been taking an employee's political activity out of hours into account when making a termination decision, but there is little court guidance.

It is an election year and if one thing is certain, it is that employees will be keen to share their views by blogging, posting, hashtagging, regramming and sharing.

Which means it is time for employers to think about their social media policies and the extent to which they are able to legitimately discipline employees for their comments on social media, particularly where those comments are political in nature.

The issues for employers

Social media has been a hot topic in the employment law space for a while, with no shortage of colourful cases coming before the Fair Work Commission.

Ms Banerji was running a Twitter account under the handle "LALegale", hairdressers have been Facebooking their displeasure about the size of their bonus, Linfox employees have been making discriminatory comments about their managers, and some people have even taken to calling their employers colourful names.

This sort of behaviour naturally causes employers to be concerned, particularly where the nature of the comments is embarrassing or disrespectful to the employer, its business or other employees. It can be tempting for employers to take the approach that any disrespectful conduct by employees on social media justifies termination.

Some general principles

The Fair Work Commission has accepted that employers can restrict what their employees say on social media and discipline employees who step over the line.

Not everything an employee says or does on social media, however, is a valid reason to terminate.

There are a few questions that employers need to keep in mind in this space:

  • if the conduct occurred outside social media, would it warrant termination? Employers can't assume that just because it happened on social media (and might tend to embarrass the employer) that there is a valid reason to terminate;
  • is there a legitimate connection to the workplace? does the conduct somehow affect the employer, its reputation or business?
  • did the conduct occur in a private forum (eg. private messages on social media) or in a public space for all the world to see?
  • will the conduct affect the employee's ability to perform their duties at work?
  • has the employee breached any social media policy? In particular, if the comments relate to political activity or public comment on the affairs of the business, is the policy a lawful and reasonable direction?

How can APS employers manage social media use?

Unlike their private sector counterparts, APS employees are subject to statutory duties that throw into the mix additional considerations for APS agencies when dealing with social media misconduct.

Critically, APS employees are under an obligation to:

  • uphold the APS Values at all times, which includes impartiality;
  • uphold the integrity and good reputation of the APS.

What happens then when an APS employee uses social media to attack government policy and overtly engage in debate about matters of politics?

In our view, that sort of behaviour is likely to be inconsistent with the obligations imposed on APS employees, and the starting point is the same as any other conduct on social media — APS employers will need to have regard to the sorts of considerations outlined above.

Given the statutory obligations imposed on APS employees, however, two additional considerations arise: do those obligations curb the implied freedom of political communication? Should the freedom of political communication be an active consideration for decision-makers when considering whether to terminate employment?

Following Banerji v Bowles [2013] FCCA 1052, which found that APS employees have no unfettered right to express political opinions publically, APS employers have taken the view that it was within the realm of lawfulness to take into account an employee's political activity out of hours in making a termination decision.

It's not clear however whether that position will stand the test of time. While it hasn't been overturned yet, neither the High Court nor the Full Court of the Federal Court have yet to resolve the issue. We expect it will take the decision of a superior court to give clear guidance to APS employers on the extent to which they are required to have regard to the implied freedom when disciplining employees for political activity on social media.

Watch this space

No doubt the impending election will encourage some employees to take to social media to express their views. For APS employers in particular, that is likely to require greater attention to the use of social media by employees.

With that in mind, now is a good time for employers to fine tune their social media policies and prepare themselves for #employeesbehavingbadly.

You might also be interested in...

Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this bulletin. Persons listed may not be admitted in all states and territories.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.