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Airport employee dismissed for breach of social media
A man had been employed by a company for about fifteen months
when he was dismissed for an alleged breach of the company's
social media policy.
The company ran a substantial operation providing logistics
services and support to Australian airports. These services
included baggage handling. The employee worked at an international
airport in an Australian capital city.
Employee's Facebook page created under an alias
The applicant was an enthusiastic Facebook poster, who said that
he usually made a dozen or more posts daily. His Facebook page was
created under an alias.
Although he used an alias, one word in the name was the same as
a word in his own name, and he used his own photo. Among his
postings were a couple which came to the attention of two of his
supervisors, who were friends with him on Facebook.
Employee's colleagues refer disturbing Facebook posts to
The supervisors referred the postings to the management of the
company. A total of five postings were initially relied on by the
company as reasons for dismissing the employee, but the most
prominent was one in which he had shared a news report of killings
by the Islamic terrorist group ISIS, with a comment "we all
The company suspended the employee with pay on becoming aware of
the posts. It also notified the Australian Federal Police and
assigned one of its HR employees to investigate its concerns. The
employee was interviewed twice as part of these investigations.
Employee dismissed and lodges unfair dismissal claim with Fair
The company took the view that the employee's Facebook posts
were in breach of its social media policy and reflected adversely
on its reputation. At the end of the second meeting, the employee
was advised that he would not be offered any further shifts,
effectively entailing his dismissal.
The employee lodged an unfair dismissal claim with the Fair Work
Commission, which had to decide whether or not his sacking did
indeed constitute unfair dismissal.
case a - The case for the employee
case b - The case for the company
None of my social media posts mentioned my employer, the
airport where I worked or the aviation industry. There was no
connection whatsoever between my private social media comments and
The Facebook page where I made the posts was set up under an
alias, not my real name. This makes it even less likely that my
comments would have been associated with my employer.
Some of the posts were merely sharing publicly available news
When I made the comment about ISIS, I was being sarcastic. This
would have been clear to anyone who read back through my earlier
Just because two of my colleagues were concerned by my social
media postings does not mean that I was in breach the company's
social media policy. I have a right to comment on political issues
of interest to me in my private time.
I have been denied natural justice. The
"investigation" that the company supposedly conducted was
a sham, designed only to create the appearance of a fair process.
In fact, my dismissal was a foregone conclusion.
I have had an unblemished employment record up to this point
and the commission should find that I was unfairly dismissed.
On commencing employment with us, the employee was provided
with extensive training on security and airport safety. He was
similarly aware of the company's social media policy.
Under the Aviation Transport Security Regulations 2005, it is
an offence to make a threat about aviation security. It is no
defence to say that a comment was sarcastic or a joke. The employee
was aware of this.
The articles shared on social media by the employee purport to
support organisations that have engaged in recognised terrorist
activities, including the targeting of passenger aircraft. The
employee's postings constituted a counter-terrorism concern and
a security risk.
While the employee's Facebook page was created under an
alias, he used his own photo, so he was clearly identifiable as the
author of the postings.
The employee offered no adequate explanation as to why he was
accessing radical political websites, or "liking",
"sharing" or commenting on the posts from these websites
on social media accounts which were linked to other employees of
The employee offered no response to concerns expressed by his
co-workers and by management about the nature of his postings,
which had the potential to harm the company, particularly given
that he worked in baggage handling, with its obvious vulnerability
to bomb attacks.
Our concern over the employee's social media posts was a
valid reason for his dismissal. It was not a disproportionate
response and the commission should find that he was not unfairly