Disparaging online posts warrant terminations

Two workers were suspended and one was fired after they continued to post disparaging and belittling comments on Facebook about their supervisor and their employer after they were told to stop.

Two workers were suspended and one was fired after they continued to post disparaging and belittling comments on Facebook about their supervisor and their employer after they were told to stop.

Beginning in June 2003, three technicians employed by Bell Technical Solutions (BTS) began to use the web-based, social networking site “Facebook” to voice gripes about their mutual supervisor and their employer.

The three men were linked as “friends” through Facebook. There were also indirect links between the technicians and their supervisor, Mr. B.

Mr. W. was one of the technicians. He was a temporary, part-time employee assigned mostly to weekend work. He had 18 months’ service when he was fired in October 2010. Mr. W. was the nephew of Mr. B. and Facebook friends with Mr. B.’s two daughters.

On June 2, 2009, Mr. W. complained in a Facebook post that he was “goddam sick of working late every fuckin day!” He posted a similar complaint the next day.

One of Mr. B.’s daughters criticized the post and commented that Mr. W. should be grateful for the opportunity he had been given to work at a well-paying job.

Mr. W. took umbrage at the criticism and “de-friended” his cousin, which meant that she could no longer see his posts.

Critical comments

However, Mr. W. did not de-friend Mr. B.’s other daughter who continued to have access to Mr. W.’s Facebook page, which featured an ongoing stream of critical and disparaging comments and conversation among the three technicians about Mr. B and the employer.

Mr. B.’s other daughter copied and pasted the comments to a document that she shared with Mr. B.

In April 2010, the comments were reviewed by BTS management, which considered the nature of the comments along with some allegations of inappropriate behaviour that had been levelled against Mr. B.

The union chief steward was advised of the problem and directed to tell the technicians to stop with the postings.

Mr. W. responded to the caution with defiance and posted on Facebook that he would post whatever he wanted on his Facebook page.

Mr. W.’s profane critiques of the company continued and his ridicule of Mr. B. intensified.

In September 2010, another document detailing Mr. W.’s posts was prepared and presented to BTS management.

“No comment”

The three technicians were called into meetings with the employer on October 5. Mr. W. was aggressive, defiant and unco-operative. He refused to offer any explanations for the cryptic and insulting posts on his Facebook page and repeatedly responded that he had “no comment.”

Mr. W. was fired.

Mr. A, another technician who participated in posting disparaging comments, was also fired. He too was judged to be aggressive and defiant in his interview. He maintained that the comments were a private matter and that he had “no comment.”

Mr. S, the other technician, was a minor participant. He was suspended for five days.

The union grieved.

The Arbitrator said that it was well established that inappropriate Facebook postings can result in discipline and even termination, depending on the nature of the postings.

“The nature and frequency of the comments must be carefully considered to determine how insolent, insulting, insubordinate and/or damaging they were to individual(s) or the company. In some cases, the issue is whether the comments were so damaging or have so poisoned the workplace that it would no longer be possible for the employee to work harmoniously and productively with the other employees or for the company.”

The Arbitrator judged Mr. W.’s posts to be very disparaging both of BTS and Mr. B.


Mr. W. referred to BTS as the “fucking company” and asserted that it did not know how to run its business. Mr. B. was frequently caricatured as a gorilla and relentlessly ridiculed.

The Arbitrator accepted that Mr. B’s abrasive management style was provocative — but that did not excuse Mr. W.’s conduct or serve to mitigate his discipline.

Mr. W.’s postings were derogatory both to BTS and to Mr. B. They were frequent, they were prolonged and they were premeditated. Twice Mr. W. ignored warnings to stop making such posts. He was defiant and aggressive when the employer confronted him about the posts and he admitted no remorse. His post-termination letters of apology were not persuasive, the Arbitrator said, as they mostly expressed concern about the negative effect of the termination on Mr. W.’s circumstances. With only 18 months’ service to his credit, long service was not a mitigating factor.

The Arbitrator dismissed Mr. W.’s grievance.

Mr. A’s circumstances were different. While he also criticized Mr. B., he made no disparaging comments about BTS. With more than nine years at BTS as a regular part-timer, Mr. A.’s service counted as more of a mitigating factor. Mr. A.’s letter of apology was not particularly persuasive, but it did contain an undertaking to never engage in discussions about BTS, or any of its employees, on Facebook in the future. The Arbitrator noted too that Mr. A was more exposed to Mr. B.’s abrasiveness such that a degree of provocation did properly factor into considerations about discipline for Mr. A.

Mr. A.’s termination was rescinded. He was assessed a one-year disciplinary suspension without pay.

Reference: Bell Technical Solutions and The Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada. Peter F. Chauvin — Sole Arbitrator. Sarah C. Crossley for the Employer. Micheil Russell for the Union. Aug. 31, 2012. 47 pp.

Mark Rogers is a writer and editor who specializes in labour relations and occupational health and safety.

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