Respect my authority: Employee awarded compensation for dismissal over Facebook Messenger

The Fair Work Commission (FWC) recently considered an unfair dismissal application lodged by an employee who was summarily dismissed in a Facebook Messenger chat.

In Morris v Alphaeus Hair Salon [2018] FWC 2642, Commissioner Riordan was provided with a Facebook Messenger chat transcript in which a salon owner accused an employee of participating in a conspiracy against him before advising her: “Good luck in your new job if you can find one”.

The employee was employed as a hairdresser at the salon and was promised that she would manage a new salon opening in another location. This good working relationship soured, however, on the evening of 6 December 2017 after the salon owner initially messaged the employee to enquire whether he had an appointment in the morning.

When the employee did not answer immediately, he sent a further message stating that the employee had to make a choice whether she was “with me or against me”. The employee replied that she did not know what he was talking about and the pair exchanged escalating messages in which the salon owner:

  • Told the employee that she had to “cut off” former employees as her friends or she would not have a job;
  • Accused the employee of planning abandon him and leave the salon;
  • Demanded to know whether he could trust the employee;
  • Accused the employee and a co-worker of contributing to his fear that they were second guessing him;
  • Claimed that the employee tried to have control over him;
  • Advised the employee that she had to “rid that attitude you have”; and
  • Questioned whether he should continue to employ the employee.

The employee tried to call the salon owner so that he could explain his messages and attempted to reassure him that she liked her job, that she was not leaving the salon and that other employees were not out to get him, but the salon owner did not answer.

After the employee advised that she was stressed out from his messages and was not going to come in the following day, the salon owner sent a series of messages including: “Good luck in your new job if you can find one”, “I will cut you from my fold Good luck girl as you will need it” and “Goodbye loser [sic]”. The salon owner then proceeded to rant and stated: “You r dead to me!...I will have justice and you will receive my wrath!...You are nothing and will be nothing” and threatening “Depart from me as I will destroy u!”

The employee lodged an unfair dismissal application. The employer did not lodge a response and did not participate in the Hearing.

The FWC noted that the salon owner and the employee had a good working relationship and that they regularly chatted on Facebook outside of work. However, the FWC characterised the final exchange as a chat which “spiralled out of control”.

The FWC held that there was no valid reason for the dismissal. It found that the employee was dismissed because the salon owner held a “conspiracy theory” about the employee talking to current and former colleagues, but there was no evidence before it that the employee had done this or had tried to undermine the employer.

The FWC ordered that the employer pay the employee a total of 4 weeks’ pay (being the loss of remuneration between her dismissal and her new employment).

Lessons for employers

While it is increasingly common for employers and employees to converse on social media, such platforms should not be used to have disciplinary discussions with employees, particularly outside of work hours. Such serious conversations are better handled in a formal manner with a proper process. In this matter the chat which “escalated from a simple enquiry to an unfortunate conclusion” may have resolved if the two parties had discussions over the phone or face-to-face.

Shane Koelmeyer is a leading workplace relations lawyer and Director at Workplace Law. Workplace Law is a specialist law firm providing employers with legal advice, training and representation in all aspects of workplace relations, employment-related matters and WH&S.

02 9256 7500 | sydney@workplacelaw.com.au

Information provided in this blog is not legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Workplace Law does not accept liability for any loss or damage arising from reliance on the content of this blog.

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