Going Viral – Practicing Safe Social Media Habits Can Help You Keep Your Job

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January 18, 2021

Comments and activities on social media can lead to discipline or worse.

While browsing your favourite social media website, have you ever seen a friend, co-worker, or family member post a comment like this?

“I have ZERO use for HR. I’ve been to HR several times on different matters… Lots of s**t disturbers in our Company. The HR department is not about the employee at all. Whether you are innocent or in the right, their pure existence is damage control for the Company. They’ll lie, threaten and do whatever it takes to meet their agenda. When they pull this stunt tell them and your Union President that you intend to file a Human Rights complaint and litigate for damages… watch how fast they let things drop.”

If you have, you might want to tell your friend to speak with their union steward and get some advice. Spicy comments like that could land them in a lot of trouble.

The Facebook comment above was taken directly from an arbitration case that, thankfully, did not involve a UFCW member. In that case, the arbitrator found that it was appropriate to discipline the employee who wrote those comments, saying that the post was “detrimental to plant welfare.”

As a result of the post, the arbitrator decided that it was appropriate for the employee to receive 40 demerit points. In the employee’s workplace, 100 demerit points would result in them being fired.

There are a few important things to note about the employee’s post:

  • The employee did not name their workplace or include the name of any person;
  • The employee posted this comment as a reply to a co-worker’s comment. The comment that got this person in trouble was not even the main post.
  • The employee did not have an “open” Facebook account. In other words, their comments were only visible by a select group of people who were specified in their privacy settings.

Despite these things, the arbitrator still felt that it was appropriate for the employer to discipline the employee.

Your post does not have to be about work to get you into trouble . . .

In an older case from 2014, a firefighter tweeted a number of harmful and discriminatory comments that the employee “thought were funny” from their personal Twitter account. Those tweets were not specifically about their workplace or any of their co-workers. The employee had only 29 followers on Twitter. And, none of their co-workers made any complaints about their social media use.

But, a reporter from the National Post found the account and managed to identify them as a firefighter for the City of Toronto; they had posted a selfie while wearing Toronto Fire Services bunker gear.

The newspaper reprinted a few of these so-called “jokes” from the account. As a result, the Toronto Fire Services terminated the employee for violating The City of Toronto Fire Services Human Rights, Conflict of Interest, and Social Media Policies.

The arbitrator found that termination was an appropriate consequence.

The arbitrator asked the following legal question, or what lawyers sometimes call a “legal test:” Would a reasonable and fair-minded member of the public, if apprised of all the facts, consider that the grievor’s continued employment would so damage the reputation of the Employer as to render that employment untenable?

In other words: what would a member of the public – who has all of the information – think if the employer kept this employee on staff? Would the employer’s reputation be so damaged that it would be unworkable?

The arbitrator reviewed the firefighter’s situation and concluded:

The job involves more than attending at a fire, or attending as the first responder when someone calls 911 for a medical emergency. It involves more than performing the life saving interventions that he has learned and practiced. The other part of the job, the part that I am not convinced he can perform to satisfaction, is the part that requires him to conduct himself in a way that brings honour to the uniform. I have to wonder if a deaf person, a woman in labour, a homeless person, a member of a visible minority group, apprised of his comments, would welcome this man into their home in a time of need.

The moral of the story is: think carefully before you tweet, reply, comment, or share on social media.

If you can imagine that your social media interaction would reflect badly on your employer, it’s probably best that you just don’t do it.

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