Employers have the right to manage employee conduct that
affects the workplace, including the use of social media. This
includes the right to make policies and set expectations, and
discipline employees for breaching these expectations.
Imagine one of your employees posts one of the following on his
or her personal social media account:
mocking and disparaging statements about supervisors and the
derogatory and racist comments about co-workers;
information about material company activities before they are
invitations to drug dealers to come to the workplace to make a
interesting aspects of confidential company projects; or
"personal details about other individuals in the office.
These examples are all from real cases. The workplace is such a
significant part of our daily lives that employees will often post
about it on their personal social media accounts. As an employer,
what can you do when the post is inappropriate?
Aren't posts on a personal social media account
Not necessarily. Many employees may think that their personal
accounts are private and that they can say anything, even about
Our courts and arbitrators have determined that what employees
write in their social media postings, blogs and emails, even if
initial distribution is limited, can be disseminated and discovered
by the employees may be a factor. However, if it is destructive of
workplace relationships, harmful to the employer or contrary to the
law, it can have consequences for the employee.
Employees owe duties to their employer. These include duties of
loyalty, fidelity and confidentiality. They can extend outside of
the workplace and into social media.
Don't ignore social media – have a policy
Social media can be a powerful tool, for good and bad. As an
employer, you can give some direction to the positive use of social
media and set expectations through a policy.
Employers have the right to manage employee conduct that affects
the workplace, including the use of social media. This includes the
right to make policies and set expectations, and discipline
employees for breaching these expectations.
There are a number of things employers will often consider
including in their social media policies: reminders that employment
duties and company policies apply to cyberspace; setting boundaries
for use during business hours (in one of the cases above, the
employee was posting to Facebook during bathroom
breaks); addressing whether employees are representing the employer
when online; maintaining confidentiality over personal and
corporate information; advising employees that their posts may be
monitored and reviewed if appropriate; notifying employees they are
responsible for their activities and may be held accountable; and
warning employees of consequences of inappropriate conduct.
The question of whether an employer can act in response to
social media postings, and the degree of that action, depend on the
facts of each case. There are more and more examples of
inappropriate conduct resulting in significant discipline,
sanctions or termination.
One case involved an employee who made grossly insubordinate,
abusive and intimidating postings about managers that led the
managers to take time off for emotional distress. An arbitrator
upheld the dismissal for cause.
As a result of a Facebook posting by the CEO of
Netflix that viewing "exceeded one billion
hours," the U.S. Securities and Exchange
Commission issued a notice that there was sufficient
wrongdoing to warrant civil claims due to the dissemination of
Finally, an employee of a well-known Canadian company who
tweeted an invitation to drug dealers to visit him at work to
"make a 20-sac chop" changed his account to
"private" only after he was fired.
Employees' social media activities can provide various
benefits like being a valuable promotional vehicle and helping to
gauge workplace satisfaction. A good policy will help employees
understand expectations, and support employer action if the
activity is inappropriate or harmful to the employer or other
employees. If that does not help, employers have rights when
employees cross the line.
Originally published in the Human Resources section of the April
22, 2014 edition of Business in Vancouver.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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