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Be Careful What You Type: Harmful Messages on Teams Deemed WHS Risk


Electronic communication has become the most used communication method, whether it be communication within a business or externally to customers and clients. The use of chat rooms, video calls and messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Teams and Zoom increased heavily as businesses battled keeping employees connected and engaged during COVID-19 and work from home rules. However, as COVID-19 subsided, the use of such electronic tools has remained a constant for many.

As we rely on these tools for quick and efficient communication, we must also remember that the use of such tools should be done in a way that is professional and not used as a means to share inappropriate comments or information. An employee’s electronic behaviour is just as important as their physical behaviour.

In a recent case, Janelle Warren v Officeasy Pty Ltd T/A McLernons Business Base [2023] FWC 1930 (7 August 2023) a worker was dismissed for using the work platform Teams as a way to incite bullying and aggressive and exclusionary behaviour against their co-worker.  The worker was found to have made comments stating she wanted to stab her co-worker and destroy or damage her office belongings.

The worker argued that the dismissal was unfair as the threats were never made towards the co-worker but, instead, said in a private message with a third co-worker. The employer, however, found the comments made via the businesses Teams account (instead of the workers private social media account) to be violent and threatening, constituting serious misconduct and warranting the worker’s summary dismissal.

The Fair Work Commissioner found the worker’s behaviour did pose a serious and imminent risk to the health and safety of the co-worker and therefore the employer’s actions were warranted. Further the Commission found there was no prospect of an ongoing employment relationship between any of the parties.

Employees are reminded that comments said in jest or as a ‘joke’ verbally or electronically can be seen as a breach of Work Health and Safety laws. Employers should, at best, monitor the use of such communicative tools and ensure that workplace health and safety policies and other related policies extend to include behaviour across such platforms.

Should you need more information about employer and employee obligations relating to electronic communication, workplace health and safety or management of employee behaviour, please reach out to the Master Builders Workplace Relations and Legal team on (02) 6175 5900.