A recently released decision on a grievance originally filed by
the Amalgamated Transit Union against the Toronto Transit
Commission ("TTC") in 2012 should cause employers who
operate customer service based twitter handles to revisit their
tweeting practices. Based on this decision, employers should ensure
that a twitter policy is developed to protect employees from
The decision by Arbitrator Howe, available here, was the first decision in Ontario where
a union challenged an employer's use of social media to solicit
customer complaints about employees. Based on the result achieved
by the Union, it is unlikely to be the last. The Union grieved that
the TTC violated the Collective Agreement, the Human Rights
Code, and the Occupational Health and Safety Act
through its use of the Twitter Account @TTChelps. The TTC, like
many companies, developed the account to receive complaints and
interact with its customers. The Union took issue with how the TTC
responded to the complaints – specifically it was alleged
that by maintaining the account the TTC contributed to a hostile
work environment by creating a forum for haters and abusers to heap
abuse on employees without a proper employer response.
The Union requested that the TTC be required to stop using the
@TTChelps account. Luckily for employers concerned about a social
media presence and quick responses to unhappy customers, the
Arbitrator did not grant this request. However, the TTC was
criticized for its Twitter practice and approach in responding to
customer tweets. Arbitrator Howe found that the Employer responded
in a way that was offensive and failed to protect employees. The
TTC was faulted for accepting the truth of allegations without any
investigation into the alleged conduct and for empathizing with the
customer at the expense of their own employee. The decision
emphasized that the employer had a legal obligation to prevent
harassment of employees by customers and third parties as well as
management and co-workers. As a result the Arbitrator rejected the
TTC's argument that the offensive tweets would have existed
regardless of whether or not the TTC operated an account.
The Arbitrator ordered that the Parties create a Twitter policy
that ensured the TTC would be taking all reasonable and practical
measures to protect its employees from harassment. A guideline was
set out requiring that the TTC take the following approach when
responding to customer tweets with offensive or harassing
The TTC should advise in its response
that it does not condone the behaviour;
The TTC should ask the tweeter to
delete the offensive tweet before providing assistance;
The TTC should advise that if the
tweet is not deleted the tweeter will be blocked by the TTC;
If the tweeter does not delete the
tweet, the TTC should seek the assistance of Twitter to have the
offensive tweets deleted; and,
If Twitter is not responsive to
requests made by the TTC, the TTC should reconsider continuing to
operate a Twitter account.
Any employer operating a Twitter account should consider
implementing a policy outlining its response procedure to ensure
that it is not in breach of its obligations to provide a workplace
free of harassment.
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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