With the advent of social media, employees need to consider
the professional ramifications of behaviour outside of
Recent case shows the fine line between private and work life
in the Internet age
The recent case in Ontario of a man who was fired from his job
after shouting vulgarities at a television broadcaster on air is
raising some difficult questions, according to Maclean's. The
case, which caused a social media storm, is showing how, in the
Internet age, employees could face dismissal for bad behaviour they
engage in outside of the workplace. While such situations are
doubtless to lead to more
employment disputes, legal experts say that employees need to
carefully consider how their public behaviour reflects on any
company they work for and employers need to communicate to
employees how such behaviour may impact their careers.
Social media storm
According to the Vancouver Sun, the man in this recent case was
shown on a television broadcast hurling misogynistic obscenities at
a female reporter. The footage led to a social media storm
condemning the man's actions. After the man was identified as
an engineer for a public utilities company, he was promptly fired
by his employer, who cited wanting to create a respectful work
environment as justification for the dismissal.
The dismissal may have been applauded by the social media
community, but some believe the man's employer may be on
difficult legal ground. Although employers can dismiss employees
who damage the company's reputation, in this case the
individual never identified himself as an employee for the public
utility company. Especially if the individual is a unionized
employee (which is not publicly known), he may be able to appeal
the dismissal, citing his constitutional right to freedom of
expression, and have his job and back pay reinstated.
While this case is far from resolved, it exposes the new
concerns raised about the rights of both employers and employees in
the Internet age. As Maclean's notes, Canadian law has largely
protected the right of employers to dismiss employees who may
damage the company's reputation for bad behaviour that takes
place outside of work. That right, however, was established in the
1800s, well before social media became a factor in employment
Nowadays, with so many companies looking to protect their brand,
what employees do online or outside of work can have serious legal
and professional ramifications. With courts and public opinion
still trying to grapple with these new potential pitfalls, it is
clear that both employees and employers need to take these issues
seriously in order to avoid potential problems.
Dealing with employment and contract disputes can be difficult
and it is often in the interests of both parties to resolve such
disputes without going to trial. In some cases, however, litigation
may be the only way of solving serious disagreements. For anybody
who is involved in an employment dispute, an experienced lawyer,
one who is both capable of working toward a negotiated resolution
but willing to go to trial, should be consulted as soon as
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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Unfortunately, reasonable accommodation for employees in the workplace continues to be the source of significant litigation and even today we continue to see outrageous examples of employers behaving badly.
We are now beginning to see reported cases involving charges and subsequent fines laid against employers for failing to provide information, instruction and supervision to protect a worker from workplace violence.
On October 13, 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada denied leave to appeal an Ontario Court of Appeal decision which ordered an employer to pay a former employee 37 months of salary and benefits following termination.
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