Social Media Policies: The Fads and the Far-Fetched


A bit of lighthearted entertainment to brighten a long shift in an underground mine in Western Australia saw the 15 men featured in this Harlem Shake video fired by Barminco, their employer. Barminco considered the stunt a safety violation, and the men lost their six-figure salaries accordingly (Clarke 2013). The case definitely wasn’t the first Internet fad that resulted in the axing of employees, and it wont be the last. Can you recall the planking phenomenon?


This guy was fired from Woolworths and many other perpetrators were on the road to joblessness after their employers caught wind of their planking behaviour on social media.


And as for these guys? Yep, also sacked.

Undoubtedly, balancing on story-high smoke stacks raises concerns for safety and is obvious grounds for dismissal, but what about when things are much less sinister? With tough workplace social media policies on the increase, a simple rant on Facebook about your place of work, or even voicing a broad opinion about the company itself, could see you packing up your desk and queuing up at the Centrelink office the following week.

Most large companies now have social media policies in place to ensure that their workers aren’t misbehaving online and causing damage to the company and it’s reputation. Fair enough, I say. But when do these policies go to far?

The Commonwealth Bank implemented a new social media policy in 2011, with terms so strict that breaches of its rules were inevitable. According to Finance Sector Union official Wendy Streets, conversation online about the colour of the teacups in the banks’ offices would actually constitute a breach of the policy as it was worded, and could be cause for employment termination (Hannan 2011). The policy also threatened employees with disciplinary action if they did not report any criticism they read about the company on social media channels. A little far fetched, perhaps?

As with workplace policies, social media policies have dual roles. Firstly, they provide guidance to employees so that their social media use doesn’t get them into trouble, and secondly, they provide a firm basis for employer disciplinary action. However, when social media policies are inhibiting freedom of expression, such as in the Commonwealth case, perhaps the companies need to head back to the policy drawing board, or even take a leaf or two out of CISCO’s well-executed social media policy.

Think before you type employees… You’re being watched.



Clarke, T 2013, ‘Miners’ underground Harlem Shake dance harmless, says lawyer’, Perth Now, 7 March, viewed 10 May,

1fastnigel, 2013, Underground Harlem Shake, YouTube video, viewed 10 May,

Hannan, E 2011, ‘Bank’s Facebook sacking threat’, The Australian, 5 February.