You can do just about whatever you want in life, within legal reason.
For that matter, say almost whatever you want. But that doesn’t mean that you can sidestep the consequences.
In a recent court decision, public servant Michaela Banjeri had her case dismissed after she filed for unfair dismissal.
Banjeri had been using an anonymous Twitter account to post comments critical of the Immigration Department. When the account was linked to Banjeri, she was fired. Banjeri defended herself by stating that she was simply “expressing a political opinion to which all Australians have an constitutionally implied right.”
The judge ultimately ruled that even if there was constitutionally implied freedom for Australian citizens to voice their political opinion, Banjeri was in clear violation of her employment contract. This was the stipulation upon which the case rested.
I’ll say up front, I firmly believe in freedom of speech. While we don’t have quite the same legal right in Australia as folk do in the US, I think that exercising the precedent is incredibly important.
But this isn’t about that. Freedom of speech is not a get-out-of-jail-free card that can be used to absolve you of your professional responsibilities.
Twitter functions like a soapbox. You are broadcasting, in a very transparent environment, your thoughts and feelings. When Michaela Banjeri decided to tweet critical comments at her employer from her alias account, she was still tweeting critical comments at her employer. The only difference is that she was wearing one of these:
The Government department was still Banjeri’s employer, even is she had issues with how that employer operated. And if an employer identifies that employees ragging about them to stakeholders on a public platform, that’s incredibly solid grounds for dismissal.
Let’s subtract the legal element and just look at this from a moral angle. Your employer is paying you. You have chosen to work for your employer. If you take moral issue with the actions of your employer, then perhaps you shouldn’t be working for them in the first place. If you get caught bitching about your organisation, it’s certainly something of an indication that you’re not really playing for the same team.
Therefore they might legitimately have some cause to question your commitment to that team.
Yes, you can argue that everyone in Australia has an implied constitutional freedom to voice their political opinion and this is true, but what you don’t have is the right to be paid. Choosing to work for someone, regardless of who they are, is choosing to adhere to the contract you signed. There are certain responsibilities that come with being an employee that you either have to swallow, or walk away. For public servants, this can be a tricky path to navigate but regardless, you have chosen to navigate it. It’s part of your job.
With great employment comes great responsibility. And while I believe that Banjeri’s tweets illustrate some very legitimate concerns and she should have the legal right to voice those opinions, she still needs to accept the consequences of her actions, and her employer’s legal right to terminate her employment.