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The ‘dislike’ button for employers

Dealing with negative social media posts by employees

By Jeffrey R. Smith

Do you know who’s posting on your Facebook page and what they’re posting? Your employer might, and it might not like it.

There has been an increasing number of cases where employees have gotten into trouble with their employers as a result of what’s been posted on their social media pages. Some are obvious, while others might be reaching a bit.

Either way, it’s clear people should be more cautious about what appears on their social media pages if it in any way can cast their employer in a negative light.

Some of the obvious instances where employees have been fired for social media posts have involved the employees posting outright threats against co-workers or managers; derogatory remarks about the employer and its top customer; photos documenting employee misconduct; racist and sexist remarks while identifying as an employee of the employer; and photos showing criminal behaviour while off duty.

All of these instances directly affected the employers — either by damaging the employer’s public image or negatively affecting the workplace — and were seen as serious enough by both the employer and a court or arbitrator to warrant dismissal.

But sometimes employees can post something that might not be harmful enough to warrant dismissal, or someone posts something that the employee doesn’t get around to deleting. How serious should it be to deserve discipline?

A recent Quebec case demonstrates there can be a fine line for employees and social media. It involved a kindergarten educator who posted the line “Hell of a bad day” on her Facebook page. A parent who was Facebook friends with the educator saw the post and, worried the comment was related to something that happened at the school, contacted the school. The teacher told the employer the post had nothing to do with her job, but the employer gave her a verbal warning not to post anything related to her employment.

Several months later, at the start of the following school year, the same educator posted a comment that she was looking forward to teaching at a new school where she had worked in the past. When a friend posted a comment that she must have gotten bored or someone tried to make her life miserable at her previous school, the educator “liked” the comment and replied “I am returning by choice, no one pissed me off directly.” The employer saw the comment and suspended the educator for one day with another warning.

An arbitrator lessened the penalty to a written reprimand, but agreed with the employer that the educator violated the earlier warning. Though the educator had no control over her friend’s comment, the fact she clicked “Like” for everyone to see and said no one “pissed me off directly” were related to her job. Too strict or not, this was contrary to the warning the educator had received.

Sometimes what may seem like an innocuous comment on social media can have negative consequences for an employer, even if it’s only perceived. The educator’s comments didn’t specify anything in particular, but could give the impression of problems among staff at the employer’s schools.

The initial warning may not have been deserved, but the fact is the educator had a warning and could have been more careful the second time.

If an employee makes vague comments about his employer or has negative comments posted on his social media page by others, how seriously should the employer treat these comments? Are they deserving of discipline at all?

© Copyright Canadian HR Reporter, Thomson Reuters Canada Limited. All rights reserved.

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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