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 Talitha Maugueret from employment law firm McDonald Murholme to explain the behaviours that can end up in dismissal.
Misusing social media
“You should be cautious when posting on social media,” Maugueret says. “In a digital society, employees should think twice before ranting about their employer or fellow co-workers on social media as a post on social media is rarely ever a private matter. An employee’s use of social media to damage their employer’s reputation or threaten, insult, discriminate or bully a co-worker may be sufficient to justify their dismissal, so be smart about what you post online.”
Using bad language
Bad language does not automatically justify dismissal, but it can if swearing and “grossly offensive” language is directed at a particular person or group of people in an aggressive, threatening way or to intimidate them.
Divulging information about the business
“Employees have an obligation to not disclose an employer’s confidential information,” Maugueret says.
Examples of misusing your employer’s confidential information include:
- copying (without permission) data such as spreadsheets, client lists or templates from a work computer onto a USB;
- disclosing information from a former employer to a competitor; and
- sending emails from a work email account to a personal email address.
“Businesses take their sensitive information seriously,” Maugueret says. “Taking or divulging an employer’s confidential information can not only lead to immediate dismissal, but also result in an employer pursuing you in court for damages.”
Engaging in an office romance
While your employer doesn’t have the ability to stop you forming romantic attachments, relationships that create a potential conflict of interest or are not disclosed in accordance with your employer’s policies, will justify dismissal.
“If you are contemplating having a workplace romance with a fellow colleague, you should first see if your company has a policy prohibiting or requiring relationship disclosure,” Maugueret advises. “Your first point of contact is typically your human resources representative.”
Lying or stealing
It probably goes without saying, but lying, taking advantage of company perks and theft may justify dismissal without notice. “It is fatal to the employer-employee relationship if you act contrary to your employer’s interests for your own gain,” Talitha says. “If you misuse a company credit card or vehicle, take goods from work or plan your next holiday on company time (despite repeated warnings against such conduct), that may justify dismissal.”
Acceptance of a gift does not automatically justify being fired, but will if your employer has a clear policy prohibiting employees receiving gifts and you’ve received training on the policy.
“If you have been offered a gift and are unsure if your employer has a policy prohibiting such behaviour, your first point of contact is your human resources representative,” Maugueret says. “If you work for a government agency, it’s highly likely such a policy is in place.”
Lying on your job application
“Some people applying for a job will exaggerate their credentials or experience,” Maugueret says. “However, tribunals will support an employer’s decision to dismiss you if the misleading conduct is deliberate and material to your role.”
Dress code violations
“If you refuse to comply with your employer’s lawful and reasonable policies about wearing a uniform or complying with dress standards, it may result in disciplinary action and could eventually lead to dismissal if you continue to not comply,” Talitha says. “This is especially true if you have received multiple warnings and have been put on notice.”
If you think your dismissal is unfair
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 a prohibited reason.
If you’re concerned that your dismissal may be unfair you should seek help, such as through your union, the Fair Work Ombudsman or through 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.