Tweeting your way to termination!
This past week several Toronto firefighters found out the hard way just how easy it is to lose your job for posting juvenile and vulgar comments concerning women on various social media sites.
While some may properly ask why it’s so easy to terminate firefighters when it’s so difficult to terminate police officers for discreditable or criminal conduct, the impact of social media on employment law is indisputable, and growing.
The comments were not criminal or threatening in nature, did not use Toronto Fire Service resources, and were made “off duty”. However, the comments apparently contravened the Services social media policies, especially its recent attempt to foster increased diversity, and in particular, the recruitment of more women in its workforce.
Early cases focused on whether or not the comments at issue were work related or not, with more lenient treatment for comments deemed not work related.
However over the past several years the line has blurred considerably. For example comments between co-workers, or threatening, demeaning comments about bosses or supervisors, or products or services, have been considered work related behaviour, and attracted more serious consequences, including termination.
There is also little sympathy for the argument, or legal defence, that anyone who posts on-line is entitled to privacy, because of the pervasive nature of the internet and social media sites.
I believe the firing of the Toronto firefighters will be successfully grieved by their union as an excessive penalty, considering their specific comments and unique circumstances. However this case does illustrate a disturbing trend.
Accordingly, if you have anything negative to say about your employer, its products or services, or your co-workers, I suggest you post with extreme caution, or you too may get burned!