Let’s all be honest: there’s your working relationships, your social relationships, your family relationships, and some other smaller groups of people that you interact with.

For the most part, work, play, and family, are really the big three groups in your life.

Now, the saying goes that you never mix family with business (there’s even some case law that confirms that theory).

But what about mixing your working relationships, with your social?  Well, that’s a bit more of a difficult one.

I mean, you have to get on with the people you work with, right?   So, in a lot of ways, it helps that you are able to be friends with your workmates.

We even live in an age of the work social event, particularly in the legal profession.

There are definitely those times where the work/social balance can become somewhat grey in some areas, particularly when your interactions with workmates continue outside of the workplace.

And then, well, where are the lines between work correspondence and private conversation?

Realistically, they can be very blurred, especially when your work colleagues and close friends are one and the same.

Now, let’s go back a little, all the way back to 2013, and we are going to take a bit of a leap here.

There was a particularly drastic incident involving work colleagues who were interacting with one another in a way that was very personal, sending each other fairly explicit images that no doubt would have been titled “NSFW.”

Well, those NSFW messages were seen by eyes outside of the trusty group, and issues ensued, jobs were nearly lost.

Nearly.

The then-named Fair Work Australia ruled that sending pornography through the work email system is not an automatic sacking offence.

In that case, three Victorian postal workers used their Australian Post email network to consensually exchange pornographic images. Fair Work Australia determined that this was not, on its own, grounds for dismissal.

Now, while some might breathe a sigh of relief at reading that, the wonderful thing about law, is that each situation rests upon its own individual facts.

Take the much more recent case that came before the now re-labelled Fair Work Commission, where the decision of a Sydney employer that sacked a dock worker for sending pornographic materials, via online messaging, to a number of his work colleagues, was upheld.

The dock worker claimed, in his appeal to the Commission, that he did not intend to send the material to his workmates and, rather, he “hit send all by mistake”. Further, the messages were sent outside of his work hours and duties.

The distinction between this case and that of the postal workers appears to lie in the fact that the recipients of the messages, in this case, did not consent to seeing the materials, with one requesting that the dock worker “not send me that shit” in a return message.

Ensuring proper consent to send images to a workmate when they have not yet even viewed the material, understandably, can be quite difficult.

Consent is crucial.

When it comes to the big bad world of social media and instantaneous messaging, there are some rules that you can follow to make your life a lot easier, and less fraught with unfair dismissal actions.

One, to take careful notice of what you’re sending via email, text message, WhatsApp, Messenger, any type of media broadcasting application that you can access via mobile phone or computer.

But perhaps more importantly, who you are sending the materials to.

We are living in a world where it can be easy to take so many things for granted. And, yes, there may be times when you think that your social activities may well be outside the realm of your work activities.

However, when you are participating in social activities with work colleagues, rightly or wrongly, your employer and in some cases, even your employees, may well have a say.

And that is definitely something to have a more careful think about, next time you’re about to click “send.”

Karlo Tychsen

Karlo Tychsen

Personal Injury Lawyer