SBS TV had a really bad social media run this month. It was served with two proceedings by ex-employees, following two recent high-profile social media related sackings.
Earlier this month I reported on the firing of Scott McIntyre over controversial tweets he had posted on ANZAC Day and, a couple of weeks later, the sacking of Marion Ives over sharing a link on her Facebook page to an article which was critical of SBS.
Last Monday, the well-known plaintiff law firm Maurice Blackburn announced it filed proceedings in the Fair Work Commission (FWC) on behalf of McIntyre, arguing his sacking was adverse action under s351 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth). They will try to argue his Twitter posts represented a ‘political opinion’, a protected attribute under s351.
It’s unclear how such an argument could play out, because under subsection 351(2)(a) the relevant prohibition does not apply if the adverse action in question is ‘not unlawful under any anti-discrimination law in force in the place where the action is taken’ and, under NSW anti-discrimination legislation, discrimination on the basis of political opinion is not unlawful in NSW.
On Friday Marion Ives also announced, in an email sent to media outlets, that an unfair dismissal application has been lodged with the FWC over her sacking. She is being assisted by the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance.
Ives had worked with SBS for over seven years. At the time of her dismissal she was working as a casual at the broadcaster. Ives had shared the offending link without commenting on, or expressing endorsement for, its content, the day before. The sharing of the link drew the ire of Steven Wilson, Chief Producer of SBS World News. He even left a comment on Ives’ Facebook post noting his disagreement with the content of the article. Consequently, Ives deleted the post the same day.
The next day Ives was dismissed by Andrew Clark, Executive Producer of SBS World News. In her farewell email to colleagues, Ives wrote she wasn’t given any ‘concrete reason’ for her sacking other than ‘budget restraints and reviews of staff’.
A casual employee is able to mount an unfair dismissal case if it can be shown they were employed on a regular and systematic basis, with the reasonable expectation of ongoing work. Given Ives’ employment history with SBS, she is likely to be able to pass this hurdle.