Austria: Sacked Due to Facebook-Entry

Facebook keeps no secrets. Stephanie P. knows that. Therefore, she would never say anything derogative about her boss, she affirms. But that`s exactly why the nineteen-year-old waitress got dismissed by the „Hotel & Palais Strudlhof"-Vienna, at the end of February, without notice. The reason was given as "company-corruptive behavior"in the social network Facebook. In one posting the boss considers himself as "personally assaulted and affronted in a bawdy manner". StephanieP. had nothing to do with the entry on her Facebook-profile.

A colleague, with whom she has been friends on Facebook, linked her profile and those of seven further colleagues to his negative posting, so that all of them could issue a statement. The content actually concerns the austerity package published on that day, which was rated as derogatory. But the entry ended with a snide comment regarding the company: "Kind Regards, CEO (Surname given, author´s note) & Co.,"Buggar off"!!

One colleague immediately disassociated herself online from the content, someone else fretted about the outstanding salary, a third person tattled on his friends to his seniors. Three out of eight of the Facebook-friends were consequently dismissed without notice. Among them the author, an annotator and Ms P., who did not react to the posting as she was not online. "The boss said I would be involved in all this, even though I am in disagreement with the author." Ms P. went to the employees` chamber (AK), which fights against unjustifiable dismissal.

Employees` chamber to interfere
Regarding Ms P., there has already been an occurrence within the company: „The dismissal did not come out of the blue", says her supervisor Rafael Bauch. He acknowledges that there were some rumblings within the staff because of delayed wage payments which led to dismissals. "We had liquidity problems." The company is in a process of reorganisation at the moment, the Facebook-incident therefore may not be that inconvenient.

Warnings and Tips
AK-expert Köstelbauer is warning employees against careless chatting in social networks. Cases like this are on the increase. Should employees give away business secrets or violate their trustworthiness or their loyalty or thoughtful consideration, it might cost them their job. "Just recently an employee in a bank was dismissed because she disapproved of the bank." The only thing the AK could do was to turn the dismissal into a mutually agreed one.

There is a wide difference between telling something in private or posting it on Facebook, warns AK-expert Günter Köstelbauer, against unconsidered comments which are related to an employer. "The one who is standing on Stephansplatz, whinging about his boss on a megaphone, must not wonder about losing his job. "What needs to be particularly considered is:

Employee´s duty of good faith: If company secrets are divulged on a regular cyber table this is a reason for dismissal, however the circumstances have to be verified in each individual case. Basically, employees have the duty of being faithful, loyal and considerate. In cases of insults and libel even character assassination, claims for compensation may be the consequence.

Transparency: Even the one who chooses rigorous security settings can not be sure that private contents eventually end up on the boss´ desk. Therefore, it is likely that an employee could be found out to be having a "sickie" (illegal sick day off) via Facebook or private preferences become public.

Proscriptions: Facebook is restricted from many company networks. Anyone who ignores the proscription risks losing his job. Also, intense internet surfing or writing postings can – if not particularly allowed – violate the obligation to work. To access Facebook on your own smartphone during breaks can not be prohibited.

Guidelines: The AK suggests clear internal guidelines for the handling of social networks, for instance in company agreements. Should it be asked of employees to get active in Facebook, clear guidelines are necessary?

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