Former employee sued for social media posts
In a highly unusual case, an employer has won significant aggravated and compensatory damages against a former employee who was found to have posted messages on her own Instagram account that damaged the reputation of the proprietor, as well as making false inferences that she had sustained injuries following an altercation with a client of the employer.
The employee had been engaged as a receptionist at a Brisbane cosmetic medical clinic, referred to the employer, from 15 August 2016 to 16 October 2018. After she left employment, she had ongoing mental health issues, including periods of hospitalisation.
In 2020, the employer had posted a picture on their Instagram account of the co-owner and general practitioner within the business `Dr M’, with a caption `Dr M serving during COVID-19)’.
For unknown reasons, the former employee took exception to this and reposted the photo on her own account with various disparaging comments and remarks.
The employer (including co-owners and directors) responded with a civil action for damages claiming they had been defamed and suffered damage to their reputations.
Justice David Reid in the District Court believed it was likely that clients of the business may have been aware of the former employee’s comments on social media. In fact, they may have been followers of hers with direct access to the comments.
As he stated in his decision,
“Despite the defendant’s assertions that she was not ‘naming and shaming” it appears to me that this is exactly what she intended by her story…I have no difficulties in concluding that the first publication by the defendant concerned the first plaintiff and the fourth plaintiff and was defamatory of them”.
He also determined that the former employee’s suggestions that `Dr M’ was not serving during COVID-19 was simply incorrect and made “without any foundation whatsoever”.
The former employee made several other social media publications. One included a post suggesting she had sustained physical injuries with an accompanying caption, “I cannot legally say names … but my ex employer of 3 yr (sic) is involved”.
Again, Justice Reid found her actions to be defamatory.
In total, Justice Reid awarded damages in excess of $83,000 to the business and several co-owners and directors of the business. He took particular note of the former employee’s failure to apologise or display any remorse for her actions.
He also granted an injunction against the former employee, restraining her from publishing any further defamatory publications concerning them.
For questions about unsatisfactory comments by former employees or other employment questions, please contact Dean Cameron at Workforce Advisory Lawyers – We Know Employment Law on 1300 WAL LAW, 0417 622 178 or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: This information is provided as general advice on workplace relations and employment law. It does not constitute legal advice, and it is always advisable to seek further information regarding specific workplace issues. Liability limited by a scheme approved under professional standards legislation.