The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has stood down its chief economist Burchell Wilson over tasteless Facebook posts, pending the outcome of an investigation.
The move by ACCI follows a similar incident in which Alan Moran, a high profile member of the Institute of Public Affairs, left the right wing think tank after a social media crackdown revealed he posted dubious tweets on Islam.
These high profile cases reinforce the need for businesses to devise clear-cut social media policies and provide clarity on whether the policy extends to posts outside of working hours. Gareth Jolly, industrial relations and employment law expert at Minter Ellison, said social media posts often resulted in dismissal and discipline from employers and sometimes ended up at the Fair Work Commission.
He said employee social media posts were often a complicated issue for businesses owners to handle and that the Fair Work Commission would often look to whether a policy had been put in place. “The number of social media unfair dismissals is on the increase,” he told Dynamic Business. “A growing number of them for obvious reasons.”
ACCI chief executive Kate Carnell was forced to issue a clarifying statement about Mr Wilson on Thursday. “After learning of the matter I spoke to Mr Wilson and directed him to stand-down from his position pending a thorough investigation. This is a matter we are taking very seriously,” she said. “ACCI also takes issues of natural justice seriously and are providing Mr Wilson with an opportunity to respond to the allegations before any further action is taken.”
According to reports, Mr Wilson found himself the subject of a formal complaint lodged with ACCI via an email containing screenshots. The posts in question are reported to have included a photo of Joe Hockey as a child along with the words: “Joe Hockey is a fat little bastard… his biography is so tedious.”
On a separate occasion, Mr Wilson is reported to have posted derogatory comments about refugees and posted attacks on rival group the Business Council of Australia and its chief executive Jennifer Westacott. The IPA’s Alan Moran also sparked controversy on social media by posting contentious religious and political opinions.
Mr Jolly said that social media posts could lead to discipline or dismissal in a number of ways. One is through misconduct in which the post criticises the employer, damages their reputation or harasses other employees. Another is by providing evidence of unrelated misconduct such as demonstrating an employee is not actually sick on a day on which they have taken a day off.
“Most of the way cases about social media come up is through unfair dismissal,” he said. “There are commission cases that go either way depending on the circumstances. In some cases the commission will uphold the dismissal… and on other occasions they have found the dismissal to be unfair. It all depends on a balancing of different considerations.”
Mr Wilson has not confirmed or denied whether the posts made on his Facebook page were actually made by him. However, he has told media outlets that he is taking legal advice and claims to have been hacked.