Can school staff be fired for having an OnlyFans account?

Can school staff be fired for having an OnlyFans account?

As the cost-of-living crisis bites, it’s not unusual for school staff, and indeed students, to embark on a side hustle.

Perhaps one of the most lucrative examples of this has been Uber, which enabled almost anyone with a drivers’ license to effectively become their own business. Just like those in other professions, teachers and principals have jumped on this bandwagon, eager to make a few extra bucks.

Then there are services like Fiverr and Airtasker – online marketplaces that connect people who need tasks done with skilled individuals who can complete those tasks for a fee.

In 2016, the arrival of OnlyFans took the concept of side hustles to a whole new level. Launched in 2016, the subscription-based social media platform allowed content creators to share exclusive content (mostly of a sexual nature) with their paying “fans”.

Though the platform is not exclusively a pornography website, it gained popularity for its adult-oriented content. Creators charge a monthly fee to access their content, and those in the top 0.01% of creators reportedly earn millions of dollars per year.

Megan Kavanagh, a partner in Colin Biggers & Paisley’s employment and safety team cautions that having an OnlyFans account may create specific risk in regulated professions, like teaching.

For example, says Kavanagh, if explicit content was accessed by children of a teacher it may amount to a significant safeguarding risk, even if the content was created out of hours, in a private capacity and is unrelated to their work.

“Schools should be confirming their expectations on recruitment and annually as part of safeguarding or code of conduct training,” Kavanagh told The Educator. “Staff might be asked to confirm their social media presence, and that their presence is in keeping with the Code of Conduct or relevant social media policy.”

Kavanagh notes that such a request is not about controlling what people do out of hours.

“It’s about where such content could impact on child safety or a school's reputation, or might leave a teacher open to harassment, it is likely a reasonable safety measure to ask staff about their online presence, to set expectations and to seek compliance.”

Some pointers for principals

Kavanagh said schools might consider updating their onboarding practices to ask for declarations each year around online presence.

“Schools might update their code of conduct to ensure that teachers are required to maintain an online presence consistent with their professional obligations and that will not harm children or bring the school into disrepute,” she said.

“If such content exists staff might be asked to ensure that it is locked down or taken town if it cannot be secured.  Further Schools could update their social media policies to address Only Fans content and the risk that might pose to students, the school and content creators.”

Kavanagh said any changes to policy should be supported through training and regular updates to ensure staff remain up to date with expectations.

Investigating and handling potential claims

Kavanagh said that for a school to investigate such matters relating to a potential dismissal over private online content, an expectation must first be clearly set about what a school considers to be a professional online presence.

“Once expectations are set, alleged breaches should be investigated, having regard to the principles of natural justice,” she said.

“Finally, any disciplinary action should only follow once allegations have been substantiated, and an employee has had an opportunity to respond to the proposed findings and outcomes. Disciplinary action should not be harsh, unjust, or unreasonable.”