by Siqi Yuan
Be careful how and when you use social media, especially if you are a public servant. Two public officers have become involved in lawsuits, leading to their possible dismissal.
Michaela Banerji, a public affairs officer who worked for the Immigration Department, is facing dismissal after she criticised the Government via an anonymous Twitter account. And in Canberra. Darrell Morris, who worked for the Department of Foreign Affairs, is being sued for being involved with a Facebook page, named ‘The Anti-Bullying and Discrimination League of Australia’, and may lose his job.
Both of them do not think their comments have offended, damaged or threatened the Government. Instead, they emphasise that their comments are personal opinions.
The tension between public servants’ responsibilities and their rights of speech online is increasingly evident.
“I didn’t defame anybody or I didn’t reveal confidential information. This is about being able to be free as a private citizen to make political comment in my own time,” Ms Banerji says.
Hundreds of people have shown their support on the basis that individuals have the right to voice personal opinion.
However, some legal experts believe Ms Banerji and Mr Morris breached their contract of employment.
Federal Circuit Court Judge Warwick Neville said Ms Banerji’ s critical comments on Twitter have breached her contract of employment. Geoff Holland, a law lecturer at the University of Technology, Sydney.
“A public servant, like all other employees, owes a duty to their employer. Special duties arise in an employment relationship,” he said.
In other words, their dismissals are for criticising the policies of their employers in contravention of the terms of their employment, not for posting critical comments about governments.
Further, the Public Service Commission believes that even if the public servants posted comments anonymously, they may be recognised, and problems may be raised.