How Social Media Use Can Result In Employment Termination

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other forms of social media are common tools in our modern society. Companies use social media as an effective, cost-efficient means of advertising and individuals use it to connect with friends, sometimes around the world.

While social media can be a powerful communication tool, improper use can lead to damaged corporate reputations, fractured workplaces and upset co-workers. There are many documented examples of Canadian employees fired for posts made on social media.

Toronto’s Tweeting Firefighters 

In 2013, offensive, sexist posts made via Twitter by two Toronto fire fighters were exposed in the media shortly after the Toronto Fire Services said it wanted to recruit more women and visible minorities. The resulting investigation led to Matt Bowman and Lawaun Edwards being dismissed for off-duty conduct damaging to their employer’s reputation. Both men challenged their dismissals. After arbitration, Bowman’s firing was upheld while Edwards with reinstated with a three-day suspension.

In the Bowman Grievance, 2014 CanLII 76886, the arbitrator noted Mr. Bowman identified himself as a firefighter on his Twitter account through his picture and Twitter handle “@Hero_Matt”. Mr. Bowman made a numerous tweets that were sexist, racist or offensive to groups including homeless and those with disabilities. The arbitrator found Mr. Bowman was neither candid nor co-operative with the investigation into his Twitter account and that he tried to excuse and minimize his actions. Ultimately, Mr. Bowman was found to have broken the Toronto Fire Service’s human rights and anti-harassment policy in a serious manner that injured the general reputation of his employer to the extent his dismissal was warranted.

In the Edwards Grievance, 2014 CanLII 62879, the other firefighter, whose tweets were exposed in the National Post, was able to keep his job. Unlike Mr. Bowman, who sent a series of offensive tweets, Mr. Edwards Twitter misconduct centered around two tweets. Other messages he posted on Twitter showed him encouraging women, including congratulating a new female firefighter. Another series of messages showed Mr.Edwards responding to tweets by Mr. Bowman and suggesting that Mr. Bowman should not use offensive, racist slang. The arbitrator found Mr. Edwards dismissal was unwarranted, and ordered him reinstated with a three-day suspension.

Despite Bowman and Edwards both being employed by the same employer, subject to the same policies, and engaging in similar off-duty misconduct, Edwards was able to keep his job while Bowman’s termination was justified. These cases demonstrate there is no one-sized fits all approach to disciplining employees for social media misconduct.

Factors That May Lead to Dismissal

While the Bowman and Edwards cases show, there are a multitude of factors considered when assessing discipline for social media misconduct, several factors help to indicate whether dismissal is warranted and will be upheld if challenged in labour arbitration or court.

Where the employer has clear, written policy that has been violated by the employee, dismissal may be justified. Employers implementing such policy should ensure all current and new employees are trained on the policy and must review the policy periodically.

Employees may also be dismissed for repeated misconduct. A key factor justifying Mr. Bowman’s firing was that he made numerous offensive posts to Twitter over several years, conversely, the misconduct Mr. Edwards, who was given a 3-day suspension, focused on two tweets he made on the same day.

Dismissal may also be warranted when employees post material that is pornographic or sexual in nature, violent, misogynistic, or degrading to minority populations. Violations of the Criminal Code can lead to termination, as a Mr. Lube employee who sought marijuana at work found out. Violations of human rights legislation on social media may also warrant dismissal as a punishment, as shown in the case of Bowman.

Consult a Labour Lawyer for Advice

Modern technology and social media platforms have opened unprecedented new forms of communication. While many people use these tools responsibly, posts on social media can harm a company’s reputation. There is no universal approach to discipline for misconduct on social media, but legal advice is available from an employment lawyer in Owen Sound. An employment lawyer can assist your company to draft social media policies and specific anti-harassment policies tailored to your work place.

Contact Tamming Law, Employment Lawyers in Owen Sound

If you are considering firing an employee for misconduct on social media, or if you have been disciplined or fired for your own posts, the lawyers at Tamming Law can properly assess your case and consider the factors related to dismissal. We have experience dealing with circumstances of social media misconduct and can help companies or employees interpret the law in this developing area. When you need legal assistance, contact our team for an employment lawyer in Owen Sound. Call 1-888-945-5783 today.

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