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Australian Public Service (APS) employees have a right to participate in online society, just as they have rights as citizens of Australia to engage in community life. APS employees also have special obligations under the Public Service Act 1999 (PS Act)—which ultimately exist to maintain public trust in the integrity of the APS and its employees. Some of these obligations apply at all times, including to our online behaviour—such as the obligation to uphold the APS Values and the good reputation of our agencies and the APS.

The guidance on personal behaviour on social media is designed to help APS employees and their managers understand and assess the risks of an employee’s personal online behaviour undermining trust in the APS—and make considered decisions that balance employees’ obligations with their right to personal expression.

Risk assessment

Our personal behaviour on social media should be considered in the context of the risk it poses to the community’s confidence in public administration. Assessing the risks should have regard to at least these three risk factors:

  1. Seniority. The more senior you are, the more likely your comments are to influence public confidence in the APS.
  2. Connection between the topic and your work. The closer the content of your post is to your area of work, the higher the risk of it affecting public confidence and trust in the APS and your agency.
  3. Expression. The further the tone, language, or expression of your comment falls outside the norms of acceptable social behaviour, the higher the risk of damage to public confidence in the integrity and professionalism of the APS.

What do I need to do?

  • APS employees need to take personal responsibility for their online behaviour, assess the risks of that behaviour reflecting poorly on the APS, discuss any concerns, and make considered decisions about their online activities.  
  • Managers should discuss this guidance, and any internal policies, with their staff; ensure these are understood; and be available for employees to raise questions. Managers should take a considered and proportionate approach to employees’ behaviour online.
  • Agencies should ensure their internal policies and approaches to employees’ social media engagement focus on a proportionate response to risks, and protect the integrity of the APS without excessively fettering employees’ right to participate in online society. They should provide avenues for employees to discuss concerns and seek help in assessing risks.

This guidance provides principles-based advice and tools for assessing different scenarios. The case studies are intended to illustrate how the principles can be applied. This material is not an exhaustive list of rules—the risks of particular online behaviours will always need to be considered in the context of all the circumstances, and any proposed response will always need to be proportionate to the situation. Agencies and employees should communicate in good faith when concerns arise about employees’ personal use of social media. 

Further information:

Further guidance can be obtained by contacting the Ethics Advisory Service on 02 6202 3737, or email ethics [at] apsc.gov.au.

Last reviewed: 
7 September 2020