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EMPLOYMENT LAW
Nov 8, 2010

Status update: You're fired

Facebook firing shows the blurring line between person time, work-related misconduct in a 24-7 world
    

By Jeffrey R. Smith

It’s happened elsewhere in the world, and now it’s happened in Canada: Someone was fired solely for work-related comments they posted on Facebook, and the dismissal was upheld by an arbitrator.

Two employees at a British Columbia car dealership used their Facebook accounts as an outlet for their angry and combative sentiments towards their employer during a union drive earlier this year. They posted comments about stabbing and retaliation and referred to management at the dealership. Unfortunately for them, some of their managers and co-workers were connected with them on Facebook and saw all this vitriol.

After monitoring the escalating comments, and seeing them develop into slurs and threats, management fired the two employees. Though the employees claimed the dismissals were an attempt at union-busting, the B.C. Labour Board said the comments contributed to a hostile work environment and were essentially airing the company’s dirty laundry in a public forum (one of the workers had 377 Facebook friends and the other had about 100, and all of them were able to see the comments).

There have been cases elsewhere where Facebook has played a role in dismissals. A woman in Switzerland was fired when her employer saw she was on Facebook when she was supposed to be home sick because of sensitivity to light.

Here in Canada, about three years ago, an Ottawa grocery store chain fired several employees because they admitted to misconduct at work in a Facebook group. A couple of years ago, an Alberta company fired an employee for harassing another employee, including comments made on Facebook. However, that employee was reinstated because it turned out he hadn’t written the comments or been responsible for the harassment.

The difference between the most recent B.C. case and the earlier Canadian cases is the employees were fired solely for their activities on Facebook, while the earlier cases were for actual misconduct at work that came to light through the social networking site. Is this likely to open the door to employers to be able justify discipline or dismissal with things employees post online outside of work on their own time?

In the B.C. case, the comments the employees posted on Facebook were written off-site on their personal time, but their effects carried into the workplace. In a 24-7 wired world, it looks like worksite and work hours may not matter as much when it comes to employee misconduct, but rather just the overall effect on the workplace and the employer.

Jeffrey R. Smith is the editor of Canadian Employment Law Today, a publication that looks at workplace law from a business perspective. For more information, visit www.employmentlawtoday.com.

    
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