Further, with the advancement of mobile smartphones, WhatsApp, a cross-platform instant messaging application that allows users of these devices to exchange text, image, video and audio messages for free is now a widely accepted medium of communication.
In the workplace, many companies have embraced WhatsApp as the medium for formal and informal communication, with many having created WhatsApp groups either for the entire business or at departmental level.
Workers are expected to obey the lawful orders of the employer communicated via WhatsApp otherwise their act may amount to indiscipline and insubordination.
In Thilagavathy A/P Arunasalam v Maxis Mobile Sdn Bhd (2019), the claimant’s persistent action of exiting the WhatsApp group without prior permission of the superior and her disrespectful conduct towards the superior amounted to a misconduct. Despite previously being reprimanded for exiting the WhatsApp group, the claimant exited for the second time and thus her conduct undermined the authority of the superior.
The Industrial Court held, inter alia, that the instruction of the superior to the claimant not to exit the WhatsApp group without his prior permission was neither unreasonable nor illegal or dangerous and therefore, the claimant should not have disobeyed.
The claimant’s conduct of defying the instructions of the superior was in fact setting a dangerous precedent in any organisation where control, discipline, trust and cooperation were essential components of a good and harmonious relationship between management and their workers.
Ideally, the company WhatsApp communication should strictly be limited to work-related matters, and any responses or action should be confined to office hours. The company cannot give work orders or demand responses outside of working hours unless it is an all-out emergency.
The Employment Act 1955 has laid down the employee’s rights, such as the hours of work, holidays, annual leave and sick leave entitlement.
Where an employee is on annual or sick leave, he cannot be expected to respond to the company’s WhatsApp message as there have to be clear boundaries between work and personal lives.
It is suggested that a company’s WhatsApp policy should be established to regulate what is acceptable usage outside of working hours, and the possible disciplinary actions for inappropriate or abusive usage.
PROFESSOR DATUK DR ASHGAR ALI ALI MOHAMED
International Islamic University Malaysia
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