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When an employee tries to buy weed at work

Mechanic tweeting he could use a ‘spliff’ raises issues for employers

By Brian Kreissl

By now I’m sure most people have heard the story of Sunith Baheerathan. He’s the mechanic who was fired from his job at a Mr. Lube location in Vaughan, Ont., after allegedly announcing via Twitter that he needed “a spliff or two to help me last this open to close.”

Unfortunately for Baheerathan, York Regional Police received his tweet, to which they replied: “Awesome! Can we come too?”

They also brought the original tweet to the attention of his employer.

After the whole thing went viral and was picked up by several news outlets, Baheerathan was fired. The company then tweeted: “Thank you to the York Regional Police for your help and great work. The matter has now been handled.”

This case raises a number of interesting issues including the implications of on and off-duty illegal conduct, the privacy of social media communications and how to deal with negative publicity.

The case for termination

I believe most people would support the decision made by the employer to terminate Baheerathan’s employment. Mr. Lube obviously doesn't want to be seen to condone drug dealing on the premises or drug use among its employees while on duty.

Regardless of one’s opinions on the debate surrounding legalization or decriminalization of cannabis, marijuana is an illegal substance with mind-altering effects and the potential to impair judgment and negatively impact productivity.

The employer in this case cannot afford to have stoned employees working on customers' cars or dealing with members of the public. Aside from potential liability concerns, failing to take action would have led to negative impacts on both the company’s employer and product brands.

The use of intoxicating drugs is particularly problematic when dealing with anything relating to vehicles and driving. For that reason, even if the employee in this case had been consuming a legal substance like alcohol while on duty, there would still have been a serious safety issue.

While addiction to drugs or alcohol is recognized by human rights legislation as a disability requiring accommodation, that protection doesn’t extend to recreational drug use in the absence of some type of dependency. In addition, using the workplace as a conduit for purchasing and/or consuming illegal drugs is arguably very different from smoking a joint or two offsite and off-duty.

This is all very different from the case of Justin Trudeau, who recently admitted to cannabis use as recently as three years ago while a sitting Member of Parliament. While it’s unusual for a politician with ambitions to be prime minister to admit to smoking marijuana so recently and while a sitting MP, at least there are no allegations Trudeau ever smoked up in Parliament or scored any dope on the doorstep of the House of Commons.

On and off-duty conduct

When it comes to off-duty illegal conduct, it is difficult to discipline workers when there is no connection with the workplace, especially for more junior employees. But if there is some connection with the workplace — even if the connection is quite remote — such conduct could likely justify disciplinary sanctions or even dismissal, especially if the conduct in question could have the effect of bringing the employer into disrepute.

For that reason, inappropriate comments on social media have led to disciplinary sanctions, even where an employee’s comments had nothing to do with the workplace, its customers or the employee’s colleagues. While I don’t know whether Baheerathan’s tweet was done during work hours, the problem in that case was the tweet attempted to use the workplace as the forum for a dope deal.

Therefore, this case should be a lesson to employees on the lack of privacy when using social media and how inappropriate comments can quickly go viral with unintended consequences. When it comes to illegal or immoral activity even remotely connected with the workplace, people need to learn to keep their comments to themselves and be very careful what information they share on social media, regardless of how strong their privacy settings are.

Employers can help avoid unfortunate situations that could potentially lead to damaging comments relating to the organization by developing, implementing and enforcing effective policies on blogging and social media as well as codes of conduct covering both on and off-duty conduct. They should also have policies stating that illegal drugs (and even alcohol) are not permitted on the premises.

Brian Kreissl is the managing editor of Consult Carswell. He can be reached at brian.kreissl@thomsonreuters.com. For more information, visit www.consultcarswell.com.  

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

Brian Kreissl

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.
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