Employees sharing their views on social media — the Rugby Australia dilemma.
We have all come across something controversial on social media at some point. The recent Instagram post by a prominent Rugby Australia player that said, “Drunks, Homosexuals, Adulterers, Liars, Fornicators, Thieves, Atheists and Idolaters – Hell Awaits You. Repent!“, has highlighted the dilemma facing employers who feel comments made by employees on social media can have a detrimental impact on their business.
In this case Rugby Australia deemed the post a breach of the Professional Players’ Code of Conduct warranting termination of his employment contract. The player has since appealed the decision and has defended, his post by stating that he is “stand[ing] on what the Bible says. I share it with love.”
Breaching the code of conduct
This is not the first time this player has made provocative comments on social media and he has previously been counselled by Rugby Australia in this regard.
The player responded by articulating his religious beliefs and explaining that his intention was never to hurt anyone.
This time, however, Rugby Australia have publicly stated that they intend to terminate his contract because of his conduct. This response is in line with Rugby Australia’s code of conduct which makes it clear that everyone must be treated “equally, fairly and with dignity regardless of gender or gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, cultural or religious background, age or disability. Any form of bullying, harassment or discrimination has no place in Rugby.”
The free speech argument
There is a fine line between freedom of speech and vilification.
So, the question is, has this player exercised his lawful right to freedom of speech, or incited or encouraged hatred, serious contempt, or severe ridicule against the groups that he named.
It’s against the law to vilify people because of their sexuality if the comments are public, could incite or encourage hatred or ridicule, and are not considered to be an acceptable type of free speech.
Acceptable types of free speech include those that are done reasonably and in good faith for “academic…religious instruction…or for other purposes in the public interest, including discussion or debate”.
For the player, it comes down to whether a reasonable person in our multicultural society would believe that he had made his comments for a genuine religious purpose, i.e. spreading the word of God as a devout Christian.
We now look forward to seeing how all of this plays out.
What should employers do when faced with this situation?
- Prevention is better than a cure. Make sure you have a robust social media policy and discrimination policy that clearly outlines your expectations.
- Ensure your employment agreements have provisions that prohibit employees from
i) bringing your organisation into disrepute; or
ii) damaging your organisation’s brand in any way.
- Communicate the organisation’s expectations of employees and provide them with training to ensure they comply with the policies. Also consider scheduling the training regularly to keep up with changing community expectations.
- Ensure your employees are aware of, and understand, the consequences of any breach of the organisation’s policies and procedures.
- Deal with any issues promptly and seek legal advice where necessary.
Need a little more support with HR but not sure where to start? We also offer a free HR Health Check – where we review all your HR documents, processes, contracts to ensure they meet HR Best Practice and most importantly legally compliant. This can be completed online by uploading your documents or via email if you prefer. We then supply a report detailing your current HR compliance and suggested changes plus list any new documents you may require.
For HR support without the hassle visit www.myhronline.com.au or to speak directly to our HR consultant call 1300 123 081.