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Much ado about nothing

Employees who air work-related dirty laundry on social media or in public can be a big problem – especially if they’re jumping the gun

By Jeffrey R. Smith

Most employers in the business of providing products or services to the public are cautious about how they are perceived by that public — and with good reason. A bad public image can translate into lower revenues and trouble with the bottom line. It can also make it more difficult to recruit top talent if the employer and its workplace are viewed in a negative light. 

In today's world of social media, digital cameras and personal video recorders, there's even more potential for things to get out that can hurt an employer's public image. That's why it's important to keep employees in line and aware of what they're putting out there. 

Recently, a bus driver for Calgary's public transit provider, Calgary Transit, made the news when he refused to drive a bus the employer had decorated in honour of the city's Gay Pride event. The bus was used on various routes leading up to the event and was driven in the parade. 

The driver said his beliefs ran contrary to the values of Gay Pride and the church to which he belongs called gay people “minions of Satan.” So he came forward to the media complaining that Calgary Transit was forcing drivers to drive the bus and he would risk losing his job by refusing to drive it. 

However, there's one catch: Calgary Transit never asked him to drive the bus. In fact, it told the driver the bus wouldn't be used on his route and no there's no indication any other drivers complained of being forced to drive the bus. So the driver basically created his own story and gave himself a platform to push his beliefs that he didn't like Gay Pride. 

And he dragged Calgary Transit into it by basically accusing the employer of trying to make him go against those beliefs. 

A few days ago, Calgary Transit fired the driver for violating its media relations and code of conduct policies. This isn't surprising since he apparently didn't actually discuss his issue with his employer before going to the media, making it more difficult for Calgary Transit to deal with it, not to mention having to put out some public relations fires. 

Other employers faced with a similar situation might do the same thing, as long as they have policies regulating how employees should treat company matters — such as resolving them within the company. 

Employees obviously have a right to freedom of their beliefs, especially religious beliefs, and not to be discriminated against. But employers also have a right to not be publicly accused of discrimination without a chance to address any potential issues. 

While there is overwhelming support for Calgary Transit and its support of Gay Pride, there's also a number of people — including the driver's church —standing up for the bus driver and his beliefs, and these could include paying customers. 

But since the driver was fired for kicking up the fuss himself, instead of actually working with Calgary Transit to accommodate his issue, it's hard to see what they're actually standing up for.

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Jeffrey R. Smith

Jeffrey R. Smith is the editor of Canadian Employment Law Today, a publication that looks at workplace law from a business perspective.
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