Social Media Rules for Workplaces

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Social Media Rules for Workplaces | Author Bram Lecker

What are Social Media Rules for Workplaces?

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+. These are powerful social media tools. Their use has proliferated throughout the world giving voice to ordinary citizens. Our Constitution offers Freedom of Speech to all Canadians. However, when it comes to social media rules for workplaces, everyone should take pause. You are not as free as you believe to say whatever you want on this public domain.

Some time ago, I had the opportunity to discuss this topic on Sun TV. It was shortly after two labour cases settled. Both involved social media rules for workplaces. One was in the U.S. and another in BC, Canada. In both cases, an employee posted negative remarks about their employer at their own time, from their own computer and on their personal social media platforms.

Bram A. Lecker, Principal of Lecker & Associates, discusses social media rules for workplaces on Sun TV.

Social Media Wrongful Dismissal Cases.

In the U.S. case, Don Marie Souza, an emergency medical worker, got into a spot of legal trouble after mocking her boss on Facebook. The National Labor Relations Board in the U.S. ruled that she was unjustly dismissed because those comments were protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution.

This was in contrast to the Canadian case (2010CANLII 62482 (BC LRB) where two union workers at an auto dealership had an exchange about their employer on Facebook. Their comments were homophobic and derogatory with violent references. Furthermore, they were demeaning to the reputation of the organization. The two employees were fired and in this case, the court ruled in favour of the employer.  At the heart of the ruling was the impact of the comments on the employment relationship. They completely undermined and frustrated the employment contract.

This was not the only Canadian incident of employee termination/discipline related to controversial social media posts. In Nova Scotia, an anonymous tip earned a Halifax Transit employee a 30-day suspension without pay for posting posting racist and inappropriate content on her personal social media account. Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 508 v. Halifax (Regional Municipality), 2017 CanLii 10897 (NSLA).  Accordingly, your employer could take issue with any negative comments you make on social media if they feel you negatively impact their reputation. This is a public forum and it does not matter that you made them in a personal capacity from your home and at your own time.

Griping about your co-workers on social media can have very similar consequences. If the comments are hurtful or attempt to incite gossip, they could be viewed as harassment.  Grounds for your dismissal could be justified under the Human Rights as well as Health and Safety Acts.

Safety & Protection of Workers.

Social Media emboldens some individuals to engage in mean-spirited and hateful behaviour.  They say whatever they like from miles away behind the anonymity of a computer monitor. As corporations increasingly take to social media for their public communication, they also become responsible for protecting their front line employees from on-line harassment.

Ontario’s Health and Safety Act was given a thorough stress test with a precedent setting case involving the Toronto Transit Commission in 2016. It involved harassment of their employees on social media by members of the public. The TTC already had clear policies posted on all their vehicles about not tolerating harassment of their employees by passengers. With this case, their policies were updated.  They now ensure all employees, including those managing their social media communication, receive proper protection from abusive customers.

Social Media Ettiquette for Workplaces.

Scholarly experts have written numerous articles about the reasons for the rise in such abhorrent behaviour on social media. Even President Trump is not immune from it. Whatever your reason are for spewing anger and hatred on the digital medium, these examples all cry out for the need to show some restraint.

When it comes to your workplace, there are very few grounds on which an employer can fire you “for just cause”.  Depending on the circumstances, your social media account may be one of them.

Our advice about social media rules for workplaces? Use complete discretion when you discuss anything about your employer or colleagues on social media. Gossiping about co-workers and complaining about your employer is certainly nothing new. But when you do this on social media, you must remember it is not “private”. You are, in fact, holding a loudspeaker to the world and your boss may just be listening. Accordingly, use your common sense. Do not put in writing what you would not say to your employer to his/her face.

Toronto Employment Lawyer, Bram A. Lecker has been practicing Employment and Disability Benefits law for over 35 years, exclusively representing employees of Ontario. Read more about the legal services offered by Lecker & Associates.

More blogs on the topic:  Wrongfully Dismissed.

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