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CANADIAN HR LAW
Nov 17, 2014

Hockey players suspended over offensive comments

Our private lives are becoming less private every day and off-duty conduct can be hazardous
    

By Stuart Rudner

First it was an Ontario Hockey League referee in trouble for offensive tweets about women in a certain city, and now we get to read all the offensive details of inappropriate  comments made by two Ontario Hockey League (OHL) players on social media.

Recently, filled with many NHL hopefuls, the minor hockey league announced that Greg Betzold and Jake Marchment had both being suspended for 15 games. Each of them, in separate incidents, had engaged in online conversations with women in which they displayed crude views and a clear sense of entitlement while using degrading and offensive comments in speaking about women who refused to sleep with them.

Comments included calling a woman “a pure bread dumb stupid c---“ and suggestions she would be “taking d--- for a living.”

Although both players issued apologies, the league took action, suspending both players for 15 games:

“The OHL takes issues related to respect, diversity and harassment very seriously,”said the league in a release. “The social networking conduct displayed by these players goes against what the league stands for and serves to highlight a sense of entitlement that we, as a league, have worked hard to try to eliminate.”

In recent weeks, we have seen several high-profile cases in which individuals have lost their jobs due to off-duty conduct. First, there was a 71-year-old teacher at a prestigious Jesuit College in Quebec who lost her job due to the online emergence of 50-year-old erotic film scenes featuring her. Next, the Jian Ghomeshi scandal emerged, which continues to fascinate the country (see here and here). Although the story continues to unfold, what can safely be said is Ghomeshi’s off-duty conduct led to his dismissal.

The OHL story is more typical in 2014, with employees getting in trouble for their online behaviour.  There are dozens of examples of this across North American in recent years. The common thread is the conduct of the employee in question can have a negative impact on the reputation of their employer. And that, in the right circumstances, can constitute just cause for dismissal.

While it should go without saying at this point, employees must remember that our private lives are becoming less private every day. What you do on your own time can be used against you. And online conduct is nearly impossible to take back or delete.

For employers, as I have often said, while an employee’s misconduct may provide cause for discipline, you should never react hastily or in anger. Investigate fairly and thoroughly, and then consider whether discipline is appropriate.


    
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