2 min read

Misleading social media posts provide a valid reason for dismissal

The Case

Waters v Mt Arthur Coal Pty Limited T/A Mt Arthur Coal Pty Limited


Mt Arthur Coal Pty Ltd (Mt Arthur Coal) decided to operate its mine over Christmas Day and Boxing Day after completing a risk assessment and finding a replacement emergency response team. It advised all affected workers accordingly.

Mt Arthur Coal was thereafter issued a direction under the Work Health and Safety (Mines and Petroleum Sites) Act 2013 to suspend mining operations due to safety concerns. Mt Arthur Coal refused to follow the direction.

Mr Waters, a Production Operator employed by Mt Arthur Coal, assumed Mt Arthur Coal would follow the direction. As such, he posted on Facebook that, “All Xmas and Boxing Day shifts are off for good”. This confused a number of employees and contract workers about whether or not they were required to attend work on Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

When Mt Arthur Coal became aware of the post, it communicated to the relevant employees and contractors that they needed to attend work on Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

While Mr Waters’ post did not result in anyone failing to turn up for work, his employment was terminated by Mt Arthur Coal for:

  • breaching it’s policy and rules about disclosing information to the public when not authorised to do so;
  • causing problems for the employer and colleagues by the misinformation; and
  • causing a potential disruption to the employer’s operations.

Mr Waters filed an unfair dismissal claim in the Fair Work Commission (FWC).

The Verdict

The FWC dismissed Mr Waters’ unfair dismissal application finding there were valid reasons for the dismissal, being that:

  • Mr Waters had published the post on Facebook without any knowledge of the steps taken by Mt Arthur Coal with respect to safety;
  • Mr Waters had no actual knowledge of whether Mt Arthur Coal would be complying with the direction to suspend operations, he just assumed it would;
  • Mr Waters knew he was not authorised to post anything representing to be an official announcement from Mt Arthur Coal;
  • Mr Waters knew or ought to have known that such a post would cause or may cause confusion, and could cause significant disruption to Mr Arthur Coal’s production if it was not true; and
  • Mr Waters had no authority under legislation or otherwise to communicate matters relating to health and safety on social media, particularly since Mt Arthur Coal had no control over the post, what was done with the information once it was posted and with whom it was shared.

The Lessons

Employers should advise employees to disregard any unofficial communications by employees about the business and its operations on social media. Important communications about things like working hours and staffing arrangements must come through official channels, such as through work emails and the company intranet.

Social media announcements about work matters should not be authorised given the risks to productivity, potential confusion if they are incorrect, and the risk of disclosure of confidential information and intellectual property.

Please note: Case law is reported as correct and current at time of publishing. Be aware that cases in lower courts may be appealed and decisions subsequently overturned.

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