A Linfox truck driver has got away with using Facebook to dump on his managers in a case that has left the company exposed for failing to educate staff on social media. Other businesses beware.
Fair Work Australia ordered Linfox to reinstate veteran truckie Glen Stutsel after it sacked him upon discovering a series of derogatory posts on his Facebook page earlier this year. Stutsel took aim at his manager Mick Assaf and resource and planning manager Nina Russell during an online chat with current and former Linfox employees.
While Linfox labelled his actions “serious misconduct” and justification for dismissal, Fair Work Commissioner Michael Roberts likened Stutsel’s efforts to a conversation in a pub or café between a group of friends letting off steam.
Stutsel labelled Assaf, who is a devout Muslim, a “bacon hater” in one post. During a discussion on the habits of bears, he said: “I admire any creature that has the capacity to rip Nina and Assaf heads off, shit down their throats and then chew up and spit out their lifeless body.”
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Russell says comments left on Stutsel’s page by his Facebook friends were directed at her and “implied that I provided s-xual favours for employees in exchange for industrial peace”.
She complained to Linfox the comment about the bear described her “torture, mutilation and death” and that she could not perform her job while Stutsel used the online realm to attack her. But Roberts said Russell’s statement in response to the bear comment “strains credulity” and that Stutsel should not be held liable for the responses others posted on his page because he did not know how to delete them.
“That Linfox saw fit to take action against Mr Stutsel over the Russell comments rather than against their author strikes me as being more than passing strange,” Roberts said.
He said the “bacon hater” slur, while in poor taste, did not amount to a racial attack on Assaf: “The fact that some of the material is not complimentary towards Linfox managers is unsurprising. This always has been, and always will be the fate of those holding managerial positions.”
The commissioner also chastised Linfox for failing to educate staff on the use of social media. Stutsel says he was unaware of any policy regarding Facebook except for the proviso it should not be used during work hours. Although Linfox argued an employees’ handbook outlined Stutsel’s obligations, Roberts ruled that it was not enough.
“In the current electronic age, this is not sufficient and many large companies have published detailed social media policies and taken pains to acquaint their employees with these policies. Linfox did not,” he said.
Stutsel, who began working for Linfox in 1989, said he did not intend to offend his targets and that the material on his Facebook page was not threatening, insulting or racist.
“I acknowledge that there are comments on my page which suggested a frustration and dissatisfaction with those managers. I accept that I do feel frustration and dissatisfaction with my managers at times,” he said. “It was stupid, thoughtless, but light-hearted comments back and forth.”
The Transport Workers Union, which represented Stutsel, agreed the “bacon hater” comment was “totally inappropriate and totally regrettable workplace banter” but it did not justify his sacking.
“It’s a strange comment in some ways, and it’s a silly one, but there’s of course no real threat of violence towards any managers. It’s an expression of some antipathy and hostility but no more than that,” TWU Industrial Officer Oshie Fagir said.
As well as ordering his reinstatement, Roberts told Linfox to compensate the driver for lost wages. It’s a costly lesson to bosses everywhere.
*This article was originally published at Fullyloaded.com.au