How lawyers should conduct themselves on dating apps
To the extent that one is not bringing their employer into disrepute or engaging in discriminatory or harassing conduct, lawyers should generally feel comfortable with their use of dating apps.
Speaking recently on The Lawyers Weekly Show, Carly Stebbing said that the recent La Legale and Israel Folau cases offer broad lessons for regulation or otherwise of an employee’s social media, she mused, but said there is a “very clear distinction” between putting views into the public domain versus sharing personal preferences on personal or private forums such as dating applications.
It would be “new ground”, she mused, for an employer to invade that space.
“To the best of my knowledge, there’s not yet been a circumstance where somebody has been dismissed in relation to conduct on a dating application, or had that decision to dismiss challenged, by way of, for example, an unfair dismissal or general protection claim,” she said.
“The clear distinction is the act of sharing something on [a platform] that is intended to be a dating application, with a certain level of consent involved, and because two people are participating in and interacting with the application, with similar intentions of finding a potential match.
“That takes some contention out of it, as does [the fact that] it is only shared within that application and forum and is not necessarily intended to be publicly broadcast.”
When how firms should respond in the event that a client learned that one of the firm’s lawyers was using dating apps and had subsequently formed a negative impression of that lawyer and/or the firm, based on still-existing societal stigma about such applications, Ms Stebbing said it would depend on the particular circumstances, most notably if that lawyer was conducting himself or herself in an unbecoming fashion.
“For a client to have been exposed to [a lawyer being on a dating app] and having been offended and bringing it to the employer’s attention would mean, likely, that the client interacted with the application themselves and had some interaction with the person’s profile. That’s quite different than just putting something out in the public domain like Twitter,” she said.
“When you’re interacting with [such apps], there’s a certain level of consent involved, but I would say the risk becomes higher if the person has, let’s say, shared personal preferences that might otherwise be offensive on their profile.”
That may be when, Ms Stebbing posited, there may be workplace crossovers for unbecoming conduct or even sexual harassment.
“If conduct [on an app] is unwelcome or uninvited and would otherwise offend a reasonable person, then it’s likely to be deemed sexual harassment and an employer would be interested in auctioning it, and probably should, because that not only has a risk of harming the employer’s reputation but also breaches discrimination law,” she explained.
“What is invited and not invited, what’s welcome and not welcome conduct, would have to be the key thing.”
This all said, with those qualifications in place, there should be a recognition from law firms and other legal employers that we are living in an age whereby dating apps are the norm, and it shouldn’t necessarily be unreasonable for lawyers and legal staff to engage with such platforms even if they are recognisable.
“The reality is that it’s probably not all that different to going to a bar or club on a Friday night and striking up a conversation with someone that you find attractive. People meet and flirt and interact and ultimately develop and break down relationships. That this is now happening on technology is just a new way of doing something we’ve always done, and there should be a recognition that it is a private act between consenting adults. To the extent that’s going on, I don’t think it’s something that should come into the workplace space,” she submitted.
For lawyers on the apps, Ms Stebbing suggests they familiarise themselves with their employer’s social media policy and related workplace policies, particularly given that they have likely already signed off on those policies as part of their employment.
“Ensure that any interactions via virtual, technological means reflect and comply with [those policies],” she said.
“I don’t think there should necessarily be a different approach to your public profile on a dating application than there would be for your Facebook or Instagram profiles. You should assume that someone is going to see that and might share with others. And, if that means that you become recognisable to your workplace, then you should ensure that you’d be happy for your employer to see that or for your colleagues to see it.”
In the same episode, Ms Stebbing said that workplace policies regarding use of social media platforms are becoming “more and more expansive”, Ms Stebbing noted, in response to the fact that new platforms continue to arise and the use of those platforms subsequently evolves. Employers cannot keep pace with this, she said, and thus policies will simply purport to be a catch-all.
“They will deal with the expectation of how you portray yourself, to the extent that it might prejudice the employer or put the employer at risk. To that extent, I think I can foresee a circumstance where maybe you’ve put yourself out there [on a dating app] and then a colleague or client is potentially on the same platform and sees it, and might bring it into the workplace,” she hypothesised.
To listen to the full conversation with Carly Stebbing, click below: