Recently, a contractor for a small business was dismissed for posting her opinion for the upcoming vote on marriage equality. The contractor, Madeline, was working for a business which operated children’s birthday parties. She was fired for posting a picture on Facebook with the filter “It’s okay to vote no”. Her employer, Capital Kids Parties business owner Madlin Sims, fired Madeline because, “advertising your desire to vote no for SSM (same-sex marriage) is, in my eyes, hate speech”. Regardless of what you plan to vote or your feelings towards marriage equality, Madeline’s dismissal points to the broader issue of whether an employer can dismiss an employee due to their political views and actions on social media.
What rights do contractors have?
Madeline was employed under a contractor agreement and not all provisions under the Fair Work Act are extended to independent contractors. However, contractors are protected from adverse action, which includes discrimination protection. It is unlawful for an employer to take adverse action against an employee of the basis of the person’s race, color, sex, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental disability, marital status, family or carer’s responsibilities, pregnancy, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin.
What do the Fair Work Ombudsman have to say?
The Fair Work Ombudsman have stated that they intend to investigate the case. The FWO will investigate whether Madeline’s dismissal for showing support to the no campaign was illegal. “The Fair Work Ombudsman is aware of this matter and in order to form an assessment as to whether any workplace laws have been breached will be contacting the parties involved as part of its inquiries,” a spokeswoman said.
The Fair Work Ombudsman have expressly started that it is unlawful workplace discrimination when an employer takes adverse action against a person on the attributes of a person’s political beliefs.
What can you do?
Any form of dismissal on the basis of political discrimination is considered unlawful in Australia. Remember, dismissal on the basis of political beliefs or any other personal characteristics is considered unlawful under the Fair Work Act. The penalties for unlawful discrimination can be as high as $63,000 for corporations and $12,600 for an individual. So what can you do? Get proactive! If you are concerned that your employee’s political opinions expressed on social media could lead to brand damage to your business, ensure you have an up-to-date social media policy. Alternatively, before you make any dismissals, seek professional help. Or, if you are an HR Assured client, simply give us a ring and one of our HR specialists will walk you through the process.
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