Facebook & Employment Law: Friend or Fired?

For many, Facebook is a blessing. For some, it’s a curse. For a few, it gets them fired.

For example, last month, an Atlanta employee at an American marketing firm took a “selfie” with the young son of his co-worker and uploaded the picture to his Facebook profile. A number of his friends proceeded to make racist and derogatory remarks about the boy and, in response to some of these comments, the employee published a comment describing the boy as “feral.” He was subsequently terminated by his employer as were some of the other individuals who made racist comments. These types of incidents are unfortunately not restricted to the U.S.

In Canada, a number of cases have dealt with offensive Facebook postings and comments.

In United Steelworkers of America, Local 9548 v Tenaris Algoma Tubes Inc., an employee’s dismissal was upheld after the employee posted “vicious and humiliating” comments about a female employee on his Facebook page. While the employee did not expressly identify his female colleague by name, the Arbitrator held that the “references could only have been made to hurt [the female employee] and make her identifiable to her co-workers.” The Arbitrator rejected the Union’s argument that the posts constituted “off duty” conduct. Specifically, the Arbitrator referenced the fact that his Facebook friends included co-workers and he had not set up his privacy settings to prevent strangers from viewing the posts. On this basis, the arbitrator held that the comments were “directed at poisoning the [female employee’s] work environment.”

In Canada Post Corp and CUPW the grievor was terminated after 31 years of service after she made a number of derogatory, mocking statements about her workplace and supervisors on Facebook. The arbitrator held that “[t]here is ample case law that supports the principle that what employees write in their Facebook postings, blogs, and emails, if publicly disseminated and destructive of workplace relationships, can result in discipline.” The Arbitrator evaluated the posts at issue and concluded that they were universally nasty in tone. Further, the arbitrator placed weight on the fact that the posts were shared with other workers who were the grievor’s Facebook friends leading to the further poisoning of the work environment.

When I was a young officer in the Canadian Forces, my first Commanding Officer, Major Yan Cimon, retired, told me that I shouldn’t say or do anything that I wouldn’t want my mother reading about in the Globe & Mail. I’d apply the same logic to Facebook. Nothing anyone posts online is truly private and being rude, racist or insensitive can get you fired – even if you do it from “safety” of your home computer. Don’t get unnecessarily “unfriended” by your employer…

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