Meriton sacks manager over misogynistic Facebook comment

by Chloe Taylor02 Dec 2015
Meriton Apartments has fired a manager for using Facebook to call popular feminist commentator Clementine Ford a “sl**”.

According to one employment lawyer, dismissals over social media behaviour can be warranted if it brings the employer into disrepute.

It could be interpreted that the dismissal was a form of damage control for Meriton; when explaining the reasoning behind the termination of the employee, Meriton emphasised that it "does not condone this type of behaviour".

Ford directed the company’s attention to the comment made by Michael Nolan – formerly a supervisor at Meriton – which was posted in response to an anti-misogyny post she had written.

She also shared a screenshot of her interaction with Nolan with her 80,000 Facebook followers, simultaneously bringing Meriton's association with Nolan to their attention.

Meriton swiftly responded by contacting Ford to assure her that Nolan’s behaviour was not condoned by the company – and that he no longer worked for the company.

“Michael Nolan was removed from the Meriton site on Saturday 28th November pending an investigation, and as of 2:30pm today 30th November 2015, he no longer works for the Meriton Group,” Meriton’s statement read.

“It’s very reassuring to see a business adopt this policy towards their staff and I appreciate their handling of the matter,” Ford subsequently wrote on Facebook.

Speaking to HC, Kathryn Dent, director at People + Culture Strategies, explained that employers can justifiably take disciplinary action against an employee over after-hours behaviour.

“These days, with constant access to social media, out of hours conduct can ‘go viral’ and attract a wider range of adverse publicity for both the employee and potentially an employer,” Dent explained.

She told HC that there have been many FWC decisions recently where after hours conduct – particularly where they are social media-related – were justly used as the basis of disciplinary action and dismissal.

“It comes down to after-hours conduct being an extension of workplace behaviour, which has been enabled by technological advancements, both in terms of what employees do and how they may be captured,” she explained.

“If the behaviour does bring the employer into disrepute by people being able to connect the employee with the company, the employer is likely to be able to take action.”

She added that this is why it is important for employers to ensure that their contracts and any employment policies reflect whether or not after-hours behaviour is something which may warrant disciplinary action or dismissal.

“Often social media policies include this; it gives the employer the right to discipline or dismiss the employee,” Dent said.

“They may make reference to after-hours events in order to clarify how employees should be acting in public.”

She also noted that employers always need to afford employees procedural fairness, which includes giving the employee the opportunity to explain themselves before any action is taken against them.

Ford also fired back at those who criticised her actions in involving Nolan’s employer.

“To anyone who suggests I have caused a man to lose his job, I’d like to say this: He is responsible for his actions,” she wrote online.

“He is responsible for the things he writes and the attitudes he holds.

“It is not my responsibility to hold his hand and coddle him when he behaves in an abusive manner just because it might have consequences for him.

“Women are often told to stay silent about harassment because it’s not fair to ‘ruin a man’s career’. Why is their behaviour our responsibility? Enough.”

HC commented Meriton for comment, but received no response prior to publication.

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  • by Bernie Althofer 2/12/2015 12:26:59 PM

    Perhaps if more people were confident that when they speak up, they will be listened to and heard.

    In this day and age when most organisations have conducted some form of awareness or training sessions regarding various forums of counterproductive behaviours, the message should be getting through. Unfortunately, it does seem that from time to time, some individuals may not think that their workplace or someone in their workplace is watching or listening to their comments wherever they are made.

    There are some things that should not be said, and ultimately, individuals need to treat others with respect and dignity.

    Good on Clementine for speaking up.

  • by Denis 2/12/2015 2:03:13 PM

    It is interesting when you google Clementine Ford and her own online comments. She is certainly up for the f-bomb and the occasional c-bomb when describing other journalists. It doesn't look like her employer cares about their reputation.

    Don't read this as a defence of the original crime by Nolan. I think his employer acted responsibly on face value.

  • by Bernie Althofer 3/12/2015 8:43:03 AM

    The propensity to use language that has in the past been described in legislation as obscene has been tempered to the point where it has become mainstream, even though there are still a number of people who would never use such language. Communication is a critical issue across all workplaces, and whilst some might perceive a 'safeness' in the use of social media platforms to describe others, there is still a 'cringe' factor involved.

    Having an interest in communication, bullying and corruption amongst other topical issues, I am reminded that the lessons learned from studies into police corruption are important when considering how workplace bullying kills professional culture. The findings from these Inquiries or Reviews should be compulsory reading by managers in the public and private sector organisations. In some areas, the discussion about workplace bullying is moving away from the traditional health and safety environment to broader social issues, including corruption.

    For example, Connor: 2002 indicates that 'police work by its very nature involves the slippery slope (the potential for gradual deterioration of socio-moral inhibitions and perceived sense of permissibility for deviant conduct)'. Connor also indicates 'that police deviance is a much broader term than corruption. It includes all activities which are inconsistent with norms, values, or ethics (from a societal standpoint or even from the police standpoint).'

    Connor provides four definitions to be considered. These are:

    • Deviance - behaviour inconsistent with norms, values, or ethics
    • Corruption - forbidden acts involving misuse of office for gain
    • Misconduct - wrongdoing violations of departmental procedures
    • Favouritism - unfair "breaks' to friends or relatives (nepotism)

    In terms of workplace bullying, all these definitions outlined by Connor come into play at various stages. Victims of workplace bullying may have raised issues alleging non compliance or unlawful activities that if proven, would result in action being taken against another person or persons.

    Whilst the issue of police violence and brutality has been identified in various Commissions of Inquiry (Fitzgerald, Rampart, President's Commission 1967) Connor 2000 indicates that brutality 'has been defined as excessive force, name calling, sarcasm, ridicule, and disrespect'. Connor refers to Kania and Mackey's (1977) widely regarded definition that indicates, "brutality is excessive violence, to an extreme degree, which does not support a legitimate police function".

    Some workplace bullying behaviours contain elements that could be perceived as violent or even brutal, and certainly in some cases, even a breach of an organisational Code of Conduct. Societal changes have seen many changes in relation to communication practices, and whilst individuals may have ‘temporary flashes’ or ‘outbursts’ when obscenities or profanities are used, it is important to remember the ideology regarding the misuse of such words.

    Connor 2000 discussed police and police profanity and indicated that 'there are many reasons why a police officer would use obscene and profane language.' Connor acknowledges that 'effective use of verbal communication is one of the skills expected in police work', and whilst there is 'specific condemnation of the use of certain words that are "patently offensive", there is no such 'mechanism for determining what's offensive with interpersonal communication'.

    Connor indicates a typology exists with words having 'religious connotations, indicated excretory functions or connected with sexual functions'. The use of words associated with such classifications or typology by police officers is 'purposive and not a loss of control or catharsis' and is done to:

    • gain the attention of citizens who may be less than cooperative;
    • discredit somebody or something, like an alibi defense;
    • establish a dominant-submissive relationship;
    • identify with an in-group, the offender or police subculture; and
    • to label or degrade an out-group.

    Connor indicates that the 'last is of the most concern, since in may reflect the transition of prejudice to discrimination, especially if racial slurs or epitaphs are involved'.

    Whilst the above information focuses primarily on policing organisations, other organisations can learn from those comments. One still has to question why some people would make a conscious decision to use such language, and the intent behind of such use. For some individuals, the use may be an every day practice, and for others, they may have a specific purpose e.g. gain attention etc.

    In terms of reputation management, individuals and organisations need to be aware that the use of such language in electronic formats means that a footprint is being created, and this might be impossible to erase. Unfortunately, the context in which some language is used is not always part of the 'footprint'. In additiion, calling out another person's behaviour or conduct might result in adverse comments being directed towards the person calling out the language, if they themselves use such language.

    In a time when the 'micro aggression' movement is happening, one might also question whether or not the use of such language will form part of that movement, and whether or not some individuals will take the moral high ground seeking to ban the use of such language at any time.

    There are some behaviours that still need to be called out for what they are, and those who report such behaviours should be supported. At the same time, when there does not appear to be any set rules that strictly prohibit the use of some language, perhaps we may see more use of what was previously described as 'obscene' language, even though there will stlll be a cringe factor involved.

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