A flap over Twitter

Worker fired for posting profane tweet on Chrysler’s Twitter account — but was dismissal the appropriate penalty?

By Jeffrey R. Smith

You may have heard about the recent kerfuffle over a tweet posted on a corporate Twitter account for Chrysler that consisted of a criticism of Detroit drivers and use of the f-word.

The Tweet reportedly read: "I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to (expletive) drive."

The tweet was quickly taken down and replaced with an apology, but what has really stirred things up is the fact the employee who posted it was fired. (The person who posted the tweet didn’t work for Chrysler, he was an employee at a social media agency hired by the automaker. Apparently, he thought he was posting it to his personal Twitter account, not the official Chrysler one.)

The firing took place in the United States, where employment laws are different from Canada, but the situation raises questions that should be considered by Canadian employers as well. Was the firing an overreaction? Or was it justified because the potential harm it could have done to the Chrysler brand and reputation?

In Canada, it’s very difficult to fire someone for cause. If this situation happened here, the employer would have to be ready to prove the tweet did enough harm to the employer’s reputation that its business would be seriously and negatively affected. Even if the employee had a history of misconduct, it’s unlikely this action could be part of a justification of dismissal without that proof.

But look at Chrysler’s perspective. It’s one of the most prominent corporations in North America, if not the world. It’s trying to get back on its feet after the recession and it’s important to the company to establish a trust with customers in order to get them to spend a good amount of their money on its vehicles. It’s currently running an ad campaign promoting Detroit and its workers, which has generated a positive response, according to Ed Garsten, Chrysler’s manager of electronic communications, in a blog post.

A negative message about Detroit and, showing road rage, could do damage to this campaign and potentially sabotage its efforts to get back in the public’s good graces. So maybe the judgment demonstrated by the employee in posting the message was extra poor in light of these circumstances? Would that be serious enough to warrant dismissal?

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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