The ability to publicly express opinions at the touch of a button, thanks to social media tools such as Twitter, has blurred the lines between office and out-of-office hours and where the workplace starts and stops.
Discussing the associated risks of Twitter for employers and employees, Norton Rose workplace relations partner Stuart Kollmorgen warned twittering employees that they need to be aware their out-of-office tweets could expose them to workplace rules.
"Employees are entitled to their opinions of course, but not to tell the world their opinion when in doing so they are damaging their employer's interests," said Kollmorgen.
"There are risks here for employees and employers. Social networking sites provide a great way for employees to blow off steam. But where does the workplace start and stop? How the law will deal with this new area is as yet unknown. I believe that an opinion can be considered work-related if an employee is stating the opinion about other employees; to other employees; to anyone in the virtual world who may be following or accessing their opinions, which are connected to their work or what it is they do."
Kollmorgen said employees have the option of exercising caution in their privacy settings but if they do not, and make comments in the above categories, they are placing their employment at risk.
"Employers should ensure that their current policies are adequate to manage this new medium. I don't think it will be sustainable to require employees to leave their devices at the door of the event or not discuss it at all. Rather, employers should have effective policies that seek to clarify when and how an employee's opinions, expressed in social networking, impact on the employer. This will differ from business to business," he said.
He suggested employers consider creating a policy that requests employees observe responsibility and respect others when using social networking tools.
"They need to encourage transparency and that may extend to a policy that requires employees who refer to their workplace in public forums - including social networking forums - to identify themselves as an employee of the business they refer to. The employer's policy could include a sanction that failure to follow the policy guidelines may amount to misconduct," Kollmorgen said.