Twitter never fails to entertain, does it? The weekend in social media revealed mixed reviews regarding Prime Minister Anthony Albanese's trip to the tennis and enjoyment of a cold one.
While I'm sure most of it was hyped-up rubbish (as it all usually seems to be), it did get me thinking about our right to live our life outside of work, and how our job can impact that.
In an ideal world, we would go to work for a set number of hours a day, have three days a week off (hello, four-day work week) and be free to do what we want during those hours that aren't spent with our noses to the grid stone. But in reality, is this the case?
For those of us who are in the public eye (like the PM), there really is no knock-off time. Everything he does, from checking the mail in his PJs to enjoying a night at a sporting event, both impacts and is impacted by his role as our PM.
But it's not just politicians who are subject to this level of scrutiny.
Actors, musicians, media personalities, anyone who has any semblance of a public life is under a microscope 24/7. It must be exhausting.
"That's the price they pay," we (as "normal" people) say. The price for the lavish lifestyles, the big bank balance, the celebrity and all its perks ... it's their cost of doing business.
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However, when you really think about it, does the influence of our normal jobs and employers end when we knock off for the day? Sure, we might not be eviscerated in the media for making an embarrassing decision on our own time, but can it impact us negatively?
Well, the Fair Work Commission recognises an employee can be fired for misconduct outside of work in certain circumstances. These situations include conduct that damages the employer's interests or the relationships between the employer and employee, and conduct that is incompatible with the employee's duty as an employee.
I think we all remember the case where the Australian Public Service officer, Michaela Banerji, was fired for tweeting anonymously about government policy. Even though her tweeting was undertaken under the cloak of anonymity, this case demonstrates the far-reaching effect of codes of conduct that employees often have to agree to abide by, when they are employed by certain entities. It appears even our rights to freedom of political expression are not safe from employer control.
A person might be willing to concede that if you work for the government, that's going to come with some expectations regarding public statements, but it's not just government agencies who can control the behaviours and expression of employees outside of work.
A Canberra children's entertainment business contractor was fired after sharing her anti-marriage equality views on social media; last year an employee was dismissed by the Australian Council of Trade Unions for posting highly offensive material regarding the Black Lives Matter campaign and domestic violence on his personal Facebook account; and in another case, an employee attending training at a hotel who groped a waitress at the hotel after work hours was lawfully dismissed.
You can still be fired even if your social media posts are anonymous and limited in their distribution, and it appears (following the ACTU case), a social media policy dealing with out-of-hours conduct doesn't even need to be in place. The ACTU case held that: "A right to hold and express strongly held views does not however mean the Applicant has a unqualified right to publicly espouse views that are contrary to the interests and values of his employer."
You may be reading this thinking, well, those case examples are fairly understandable. It's difficult to argue against the right of someone publicly attacking another or sharing offensive content, but when our choice of work pervades our personal lives so completely, when does it stop?
If you aren't even allowed to share an opinion (popular or not) when you have no identifying information on the account from which you are sharing it, how can it be argued that this conduct had the potential to damage the employer's reputation or interests?
The bottom line here is: be aware of your employer's policies, read your employment contract closely, and know what you can and can't do when you accept employment, because you don't ever really "knock-off".
- Zoë Wundenberg is a careers consultant and un/employment advocate at impressability.com.au, and a regular columnist for ACM.