Most of us know the behaviours we should avoid at work.
But it’s not always clear which kinds of behaviour could actually result in us being fired.
We asked lawyer Jaenine Badenhorst from law firm Rainey Collins to explain the behaviours that can end up in dismissal.
Misusing social media
“Many employees don’t realise that what they say and do on social media can cause problems at work,” Badenhorst says. “If you make a comment about your employer, your employer’s clients, their products, business connections or anything that puts the employer in a negative light, you can land in hot water.”
Badenhorst says you should be aware that:
- even your private social media pages can be shared or shown to others
- you may delete a post, but people can take screenshots
- you can get into trouble for liking or sharing posts.
“It’s possible that social media use could result in dismissal where the misconduct is serious,” Badenhorstsays. “In other circumstances, using social media during work hours, or on work equipment, may be seen as inappropriate, but less serious. In those cases, an employee may still face disciplinary action (for example a warning), but not termination.”
If you’re unsure about the rules on social media, check your employment agreement or workplace policies, or ask your boss or manager.
Badmouthing your boss or the business
If you have any issues at work, it’s best to raise them with your employer and give them an opportunity to fix it. “This is a far better approach than venting your frustrations on social media, to co-workers, or worse, to clients, customers or business connections,” Badenhorst says. “If you do anything that damages your employer’s business, you may face disciplinary action, which can include termination.”
Divulging information about the business
“All employees have a duty of confidentiality to their employers and even if that duty is not recorded in the employment agreement, the courts will imply it,” Badenhorstsays. A duty of confidentiality usually applies to information about clients, customers, products, the business and intellectual property.
If you breach your duty of confidentiality while employed, you could face serious disciplinary action, such as loss of access to certain material, demotion, suspension, and even dismissal.
“It’s important to note that the duty of confidentiality carries on even after your employment has ended,” Badenhorst says. “The best advice is to err on the side of caution when it comes to how you treat confidential information.”
Engaging in an office romance
If an office romance impacts negatively on the amount or quality of work the employee or employees are getting done, it may become an issue for the employer, Badenhorst says. “An employer can take disciplinary action against an employee if they are not meeting reasonable expectations in terms of their output.”
Lying or stealing
It probably goes without saying, but lying, abusing company perks and theft can justify dismissal.
“Engaging in dishonest or fraudulent acts can be classified as serious misconduct, because it goes to the heart of the trust and confidence that is required between parties in an employment relationship,” Badenhorst says. “Where that trust and confidence has been damaged the employment relationship may not be viable, and this will give the employer grounds to dismiss an employee.”
“An employee must be extremely careful about accepting gifts where it could create the impression that they are acting in a manner that conflicts with their employer’s interest (for example from a competitor),” Badenhorst says. “Ensure you check your employment agreement and/or the workplace policy about receiving gifts. If there are no rules, you should check with your employer before accepting gifts.”
Lying on your job application
Being dishonest on your job application is very problematic, Badenhorst says. “An employer can take disciplinary action against an employee who is not able to perform to a reasonably expected standard,” she says. “Disciplinary action may include dismissal, especially if the employee had indicated to the employer that they would be able to perform to a certain standard.”
Dress code violations
Some organisations have a dress code in order to create professional appearance, while others enforce dress codes that relate to health and safety. “A breach of health and safety rules can result in serious disciplinary action, including dismissal,” Badenhorst says. “A deliberate or ongoing breach is more likely to result in disciplinary action, whereas an accidental breach, or a breach outside of the employee’s control will most likely be seen in a different light.”
Check your employment agreement and workplace policies to ensure that you are complying with the dress code. If you aren’t sure about the rules or disagree with them, talk to your manager.
If you think your dismissal is unfair
Before your employer can terminate your employment, they must have ‘just cause’ and follow a ‘fair process’.
While there are many behaviours that can justify being fired, your dismissal may be found to be harsh, unjust or unreasonable, especially if your employer hasn’t notified you about the reason for the dismissal or if you believe you’ve been dismissed for an unfair reason.
If you’re concerned your dismissal may be unfair you should seek help, such as through your union or a Citizens Advice Bureau, or get legal advice.
Information provided in this article is general only and it does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. SEEK provides no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability or completeness. Before taking any course of action related to this article you should make your own inquiries and seek independent advice (including the appropriate legal advice) on whether it is suitable for your circumstances.