A dispute between two employees at a Victorian State transport body spiralled out of control on Facebook and bounced into the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).

When the two female colleagues, and Facebook friends, began to chat about controversial work disputes — and a prominent murder case — on the social media platform, matters deteriorated quickly. Tensions reached a fever pitch when the colleague asked the employee to refrain from commenting on the murder case for fear of prejudicing the defendant’s right to a fair trial.

The employee responded, “BTW I really don’t CARE WHAT you think P…!! Much less your ‘f…ing’ commands!”

The Facebook war resulted in further elevating the ongoing workplace issues, with the employee writing on her colleague’s Facebook wall that she was “snitching on people”, “too busy sucking up” and was “the kind of person who leaves your mates in the trenches after they have saved your ass.”

The colleague reported the conduct to their employer, who obtained screen shots of some of the posts as part of an investigation, and to Facebook. Upon completion of the investigation, the employer determined that the employee had engaged in misconduct and issued her a final warning

In a subsequent claim to VCAT, the employee accused her employer of breaching the Information Privacy Act in obtaining her personal and private information, citing her Facebook chats as ‘personal information’.

However, VCAT found that while the information from Facebook was not publicly available, it was not acquired by illegally hacking into the employee’s account. The collection of the screenshots was determined to be part of the employer’s investigation into misconduct and was, therefore, not a breach of her privacy. Privacy law does not automatically shield an employee from a misconduct investigation, whether that misconduct is on Facebook or elsewhere.

iHR Australia believes that this case highlights the array of avenues an internal, out-of-control workplace conflict can take, in this case a tribunal hearing around privacy.  Employers can avoid costly and time consuming legal battles by utilising mediation services.  Our workplace mediation skills program offers a confidential and structured process in which an independent and impartial third party facilitates discussion between the various individuals involved.  Successful mediation can enhance and assist your organisation to stabilise ongoing internal and external working relationships and achieve better outcomes for parties involved.

 

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