Talking back on talkback

A recent Employment Relations Authority case serves as a good reminder for employees to be careful what they say about their employer in a public forum.  Whether made on Facebook, a public blog, or, as in this case, a radio talkback show, an employee making adverse comments about their employer may find that their employment comes to an early end.

In Wilson v Pet Stay Limited  the employee worked at a kennel for cats and dogs in Fielding.  Issues arose concerning rostering, the employee’s behaviour at the workplace, and general communications between the employee and her employer.  Matters came to a head in March 2012 when the employee participated in a radio interview in which she openly talked about how unhappy she was in her job and about the management of the business that she was working in.  She did not however mention any names or where she worked.  Despite this, the employer heard about the radio interview from an acquaintance who had identified the business from her comments, and obtained a copy of the transcript from the radio station.

The employee was asked to attend a disciplinary investigation meeting in regard to her behaviour and relationship with her employer at work, including the radio interview.  Despite the employer providing sufficient information for the employee to respond to, the employee, via her representative, refused to attend a disciplinary meeting until further information was provided.  Having asked the employee to attend a disciplinary meeting four times, the employer dismissed the employee based on the information available.  This included the radio interview contents, which caused the employer to be concerned that the employee was disloyal to the business.

The Authority held that the employer’s decision was fair and reasonable in all the circumstances.  In particular, the Authority found that the dismissal was justified in view of the radio interview in which the employee was critical of the workplace.  Further, the employee’s failure to be communicative and responsive after four attempts by the employer to meet with her, justified the employer making a decision based on the information available.

This case highlights that employees should be careful what they say about their employer in a public forum.  The employee in this case likely believed that her comments during the radio interview were sufficiently anonymous as to not identify the employer’s business.  This however was not the case and word did get back to the employer.

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