Be careful with Facebook, SA firm warns

2011-03-25 12:25

Johannesburg - If employees post disparaging messages about their jobs on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter they could be fired, a law firm warned on Friday.

"The reality is that an employer is entitled to take disciplinary action against an employee (including dismissal) where the employee's private actions negatively impact on the on-going employment relationship," said Johan Botes, director in the employment practice at Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr business law firm.

This had recently happened in SA.

"It was reported that the previous head of the Market Theatre Laboratory, Matjamela Motluong, has been dismissed from employment following his anti-Semitic rant against Jewish producers in the South African Theatre industry," said Botes in a statement.

"Motluong's dismissal follows on the heels of outrage caused by racist Facebook pages, the dismissal of an employee for making disparaging remarks against his manager and the suspension of an employee for punting the competition's products, all on Facebook."

Not private

Employees' communication outside their working environment was not viewed as completely private, he said.

"An employee cannot expect to assault his manager while they are attending a social function after hours and get away with it.

"Employees should similarly appreciate that their communications on social networking sites can also have a bearing on the on-going employment relationship, even where such communication takes place outside of the workplace and using private computers."

Botes said it was the effect of the communication that was important, more than where or when it was communicated.

Postings on social networking sites or communication via e-mail might be meant for a select group of people, but once it was posted, the poster loses control.

"The minute you posted it you effectively surrender control over how and where that message is distributed afterward."

Botes said employees who use social networking sites or e-mails to rant should not expect any sympathy from employers or the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration if these communications turn up in unwanted places.

"This is especially true for those who communicate abhorrent message of anti-Semitism or racism.

"The golden rule for any employee thinking about sending a message or posting a comment on Facebook should be 'If you would not like to see this message in the newspaper tomorrow, do not post it'."

- SAPA

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