Tribunal demands Facebook records in unfair dismissal case

2013

With a growing number of people finding themselves out of a job as a result of what they've posted on social media, a New Zealand employment tribunal has opened a new can of worms by demanding to see a woman's Facebook page and bank account records as part of an on-going unfair dismissal case.

In March, Air New Zealand fired a flight attendant, Gina Kensington, following a dispute over her taking two days sick leave to look after her sister.

In a bid to be reinstated she took her case to the Employment Relations Authority. But the airline responded by asking to see copies of her Facebook pages and bank records for the disputed two days to verify – or disprove - her story.

Ms Kensington argued that there was an expectation of privacy around personal and financial information. But the ERA ordered she must hand over the details stating that "the explanation for taking sick leave must be tested for veracity."

Speaking to press.co.nz, employment lawyer Andrew Scott-Howman said that decision "feels intrusive and just, frankly, wrong."

"The courts see Facebook as a wonderful asset," he added, "because all of a sudden not only do we have the potential for pictures and so forth but . . . we can see what time statements were made and pictures were taken.

"I don't really know that society has seen this sort of thing previously. But at a time when we think we are behaving privately or at least within a restricted circle of friends, we are actually effectively on trial.

"We wouldn't let them search our homes on demand and we shouldn't let them ransack our online lives looking for dirt."

That's a sentiment echoed by Thomas Beagle, founder of New Zealand campaign group Tech Liberty , who told the National Business Review that he was shocked by the case. "Employers should not have the rights to snoop on everything we do," he said.

The tribunal's decision in the case has not yet been made public. We'll update this when we have more information.

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