Australia markets closed

    -27.70 (-0.35%)
  • ASX 200

    -25.40 (-0.33%)

    -0.0020 (-0.30%)
  • OIL

    -0.13 (-0.17%)
  • GOLD

    +30.40 (+1.31%)
  • Bitcoin AUD

    +541.37 (+0.54%)
  • CMC Crypto 200

    -37.82 (-2.67%)

    +0.0005 (+0.09%)

    +0.0012 (+0.12%)
  • NZX 50

    -7.75 (-0.07%)

    +82.88 (+0.42%)
  • FTSE

    -16.81 (-0.21%)
  • Dow Jones

    -57.94 (-0.15%)
  • DAX

    -263.66 (-1.44%)
  • Hang Seng

    -170.85 (-0.94%)
  • NIKKEI 225

    +94.09 (+0.24%)

WhatsApp, Facebook and Slack: Major group chat warning after Aussie worker sacked

Lawyer Roxanne Hart revealed messages sent between colleagues can be used against you in the worst way.

Lawyer Roxanne Hart next to a screenshot of people arguing on a Whatsapp group chat
Lawyer Roxanne Hart has revealed why you should watch what you say on a work-related group chat. (Source: TikTok/Getty)

If you're in a group chat with your colleagues then you better be careful about what you say. A little-known rule that applies to every Australian worker and there can be very serious consequences if you're caught out.

Workers across the country have to uphold a "duty of good faith and fidelity" to their employer and that can be broken if you're caught bad-mouthing your boss with your co-workers. Roxanne Hart from Hart & Co Lawyers told Yahoo Finance workplaces can come down on you like a tonne of bricks if those messages ever make their way to your manager.

"Sometimes employees will do things outside of work that have a sufficient connection to their work," she explained. "By engaging in those acts, they can put their employer into disrepute and breach that duty to act in good faith. So a classic example is the work group chat."


Do you have a story? Email

It's not uncommon for staff to have little breakaway chats where they talk about workflow, issues they're battling or thoughts on business decisions. While this can be mostly innocent, it sometimes is far from that.

Hart revealed this rule isn't solely confined to work-related messaging platforms like Slack or Microsoft Teams.

"These are all like Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp group chats" she explained.

"If you do it on the employer's systems, they've got even better grounds to terminate you because it's probably a bit more obvious that you're in breach of their tech and communication policies."

She said it also doesn't have to be a chat with multiple people. If you're negatively talking about your manager, management or company with just one person then you can also find yourself in trouble.

Hart gave an example that played out at Sydney's Dolphin Hotel involving a bar worker who was in a group chat with some of her colleagues. She had complained her shifts had been cut down, spoke poorly about management, and called on others to speak out against the higher-ups.

Management found out and gave the worker a warning that if talk like that continued then she would be fired. The worker decided to set up another chat with fewer members and continued to complain.

It wasn't long before the powers that be discovered the second chat and terminated her contract based on the commentary as well as a decline in her work standards and behaviour. She filed an unfair dismissal case with Fair Work but it was dismissed.

"The Chat Group clearly related to working at the hotel," the Fair Work decision read.

"There is no sensible basis for describing the group as a private group chat. As a person working in a supervisory capacity, and who had been work together and not question management decisions, the actions of the Applicant are all the more unacceptable."

Hart said workplaces will usually give workers a formal warning if rogue messages are discovered. But if they keep doing it, like the aforementioned bar worker, they can get sacked for it. It also doesn't necessarily have to be negative sentiment to management and can be anything that could bring the business into disrepute.

In some cases, there can be instant termination.

In one instance, a Sydney dockworker was caught sending pornographic images into a group chat with his colleagues and he was sent packing immediately.

"There's some extra laws that apply where employers have a duty to prevent their employees from getting sexually harassed and there's workplace rules like discrimination and health and safety laws and whatnot," Hart revealed.

You might be thinking, "Don't I have a right to free speech?" While that exists in criminal matters to a certain degree, the obligation to uphold good faith and fidelity trumps free speech in civil processes.

"There's no free speech in that context," the lawyer said.

This can come in many forms, but Hart said what often happens is that "loose lips sink ships". In other words, management can find out about negative sentiment if someone accidentally or deliberately mentions it in passing.

"If they've heard about it, then maybe they may say, 'Look, show us what you said otherwise we can assume this is true', and you'll have to show them if you want to keep your job," Hart told Yahoo Finance.

But there are certain situations where bosses can effectively spy on you.

Employees have been warned to be careful what they share on work-related group chats. (Source: Getty)
Employees have been warned to be careful what they share on work-related group chats. (Source: Getty)

While workplace surveillance "is broadly illegal" in Australia, Professor Peter Leonard said the law can allow for it.

“The Workplace Surveillance Act NSW mandates that companies provide employees with a 14-day notice if they intend to use surveillance in the workplace," he explained to Yahoo Finance.

"This includes activities such as monitoring computer keystrokes, recording conversations, and optical surveillance.

"If you are working from home and you are using equipment or online services provided at the expense of the employer, then, with prior notice, the employer can undertake surveillance."

So they could technically dial in, watch you bad-mouth management in real-time, take screenshots and get a meeting room ready for that formal warning.

Hart posted a video about the issues surrounding group chats in the workplace on social media and it sparked loads of comments.

Many said they never joined or participated in work-related group chats out of fear it would land them in trouble.

"Don't even put anything in writing, and don't trust anyone you work with," said one worker.

"I’ve learnt the hard way to NEVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER trust your coworkers," wrote another.

A third added: "I'm only in it to monitor for any emergencies or info that might affect my job/shift. Otherwise...I don't say anything."

Don't say you haven't been warned.

Get the latest Yahoo Finance news - follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.