The Ashley Madison hack caused personal and professional fallouts around Australia, the likes of which very few expected. Over 800 government and police workers were revealed to have accounts on the infamous site, with residents from Sydney and Melbourne topping the overall number of Australian users.
One of the biggest problems the hack caused is that most people used their work emails to register, not only exposing themselves but their employers as well. The necessary legal question that arises is whether membership with such a site is enough to terminate a person’s employment.
Turning to the Code
The answer largely depends on the terms of an employment contract or the enterprise bargaining agreement that the employee signed. Custom and practice can also play a factor, as policies – both explicit and implied – govern issues of conduct. This, of course, includes behaviour outside the office such as social media and internet activity. Employees can also consult solicitors, such as the ones at rapidlegal.com.au to advise them on where they stand.
An employer is well within their rights to impose a code of conduct on employees to maintain the image and reputation of the company. Termination is a right that employers can freely exercise whenever they find employees violate that code and harm the company in some way. But, as the issue currently stands, the answer to the Ashley Madison question is a ‘maybe’.
Courts have been willing to take the side of employers when the cause of the employee’s termination had an undesirable effect on the company. A cashier posting a negative rant on Facebook, for example, can damage the reputation of a local business, and can even lead to slander. The Ashley Madison issue, however, shows no clear sign of a connection that could potentially harm a company.
The account hack – at its core – is a very personal issue that concerns families, which leads to the question of how much influence an employer has on the personal lives of employees. Only time will tell for certain how the courts will decide such cases; for now, it’s probably best for people to review their terms of employment, and prepare for all the possibilities.