Australia: Expressing an opinion on social media: free speech or employment peril?

Being alive in the age of social media is an exciting time. We have the ability to connect with others in a way like never before. We can engage in discussions on matters of national and social discourse at the touch of a button.

There is a lot to discuss as citizens. There are many of us discussing the importance of equal rights and respect for women. There is a positive push for laws dealing with domestic violence. So, how do you respond if your supervisor calls a feminist newspaper columnist a "slut" on Facebook?

We are promoting workplaces of diversity and inclusion. Some employers, like the Defence Force, are endeavouring to achieve real cultural change. As a nation, we are debating marriage equality. So how do you respond when a defence force reservist says "I wouldn't let a gay person teach my children and I am not afraid to say it"?

In politics, we are seeing a movement towards protectionism, such as in Brexit and Trump's election. Can employees express the view that "its jobs for Australians" and "non-Australians" should not be given jobs or working visas?

With matters of public discourse, views differ. So, what is an employer's right to regulate social comment by employees? Employers generally do not want to trawl through or 'police' social media use by employees; there are much more important aspects of business to focus on. However, sometimes the comments made can have an impact on the business, workplace and employees.

As the below cases demonstrate, the unlimited access social media provides to our personal lives and views can be problematic, for both employers and employees.

An ISIS "supporter" is handling your luggage

A baggage handler working at an airport wrote on his Facebook page: "We all support ISIS". Would you feel safe flying on an aircraft when your baggage handler wrote this on his Facebook page? Probably not, and you would expect the employer to have dismissed him.

These were the real life facts in Singh v Aerocare Flight Support Pty Ltd [2016] FWC 6186. Mr Singh's dismissal was unfair despite his "incredibly stupid" comment. Mr Singh was not actually an ISIS supporter, Commissioner Hunt found.

The Commissioner agreed with Aerocare that Mr Singh breached its social media policy and failed to meet the standard required of employees in a high security-risk environment. You would think this would constitute a valid reason for dismissal, right? Wrong.

While the Commissioner recognised that Mr Singh had breached Aerocare's social media policy as the post "may have had the result of causing harm to Aerocare" and could significantly damage its reputation, these matters alone did not create a valid reason for dismissal.

The Facebook post was written outside of work on his own device. Mr Singh was not a supporter of ISIS. If it was found that Mr Singh was an extremist, the Commissioner said the dismissal would have been valid.

Ultimately, Commissioner Hunt said:

A more thorough investigation, including obtaining a written account from Mr Singh would have satisfied Aerocare that Mr Singh did not support ISIS. A reasonable conclusion would then be that the ISIS post was an incredibly stupid post to have been made.
My finding, however, should not suggest that it is acceptable for employees in the relevant airport environment to post what appears to be support for a terrorist organisation and explain it away as sarcasm, comedy or satire. Mr Singh did a very stupid thing...

It is difficult to reconcile the above reasoning.

The context of the employee's employment is significant. The post was incompatible with an inherent requirement of the employment of baggage handlers, namely that the employer and public can have the utmost confidence in them with security. The post, whether true or not, is incompatible with that trust and confidence. It created an appreciable uneasiness.

Tagging colleagues and blobs of sorbolene cream

Mr Renton posted a sexually graphic video to Facebook in which he 'tagged' two work colleagues with the statement "Frank ... getting slammed by Jo ... at work yesterday". At the same time, Mr Renton left blobs of white sorbolene cream on Frank's desk at work.

Frank and Jo were not impressed. Neither was Mr Renton's employer and Mr Renton was dismissed. Mr Renton's dismissal was ultimately found to be harsh due to the post being a once-off blemish in a long career: Renton v Bendigo Health Care Group [2016] FWC 9089. As there was a valid reason for dismissal, Mr Renton was however not reinstated.

Mr Renton said he wasn't thinking when he made the post. It was only posted for a laugh. Jo thought the post only justified a warning. Frank had also 'tagged' Mr Renton in the past with 'blokey, crass and immature' posts and Frank was not dismissed. These matters were not exculpatory.

"Mr Renton, by his actions, exposed [Frank and Jo] to humiliation and potential ridicule at work. The professionalism and appropriate standards of conduct of their co-workers must be relied on to ensure this does not occur. His actions were crass, careless and showed an absence of judgment", Commissioner Bissett said. There was a valid reason for Mr Renton's dismissal.


The Renton decision demonstrates that private comments and views on social media can have an impact at work. As Commissioner Bissett said, consequences for employees and others are "far reaching" and "cannot be ignored".

Posting personal views can create conflict and incompatibility with employment. It can impact workplace harmony and cohesion or detract from an employer's corporate social responsibility initiatives and reputation. That is why a building company dismissed the supervisor for a derogatory comment about the columnist when it was a public supporter of equality for women.

Unfortunately, employees have shown a lack of maturity and insight with the impact and reach of their personal views on social media. Some personal views, or how they are expressed, may place their employment at peril.

Employers however can be more proactive in the area of social media. Education and training on the reach of social media, and how personal views could impact on work and work relationships needs to be taught.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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”

Related Video
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.