High-profile cases involving social media are catching the attention of employment lawyers, who say the contents of Facebook and Twitter accounts are now a regular component of disputes over dismissals.
More and more cases involving the firing of workers for what they say online have been surfacing before labour tribunals in recent years – creating an entire new category of dispute that did not exist a decade ago.
Many employees, experts say, seem unaware that, under current laws (or in absence of any regulations), their employers hold most of the cards: Employees can be fired or disciplined for venting workplace frustrations or lambasting their bosses while online, even if they are doing it for their own Facebook friends and Twitter followers, on their own computers, and after hours.
Online comments can create conflicts of interest between employees and employers, such as when broadcasters or teachers take controversial stands that could affect the reputation of their employers, or their ability to do their jobs.
Criticizing bosses online can violate the legal “duty of loyalty” that employees owe their employer. A worker can always be fired without cause, but must be paid severance. But egregious Facebook posts or angry tweets about supervisors can be considered just cause, meaning workers can be shown the door with no severance. Even with the protection of a union, blasting the bosses online can also mean losing your job.
The law is the same, whether the attacks are made online or the old-fashioned way, in person.
Employers can put out a statement that appeared to dampen suggestions to been fired for social-media activity. For example, “…..in recent weeks it had become clear that Mr X (the employee) is not the right fit for our organization.”
Many lawyers say employers need to draft policies to govern how employees use social media, and enforce them, both to protect their reputations and to help educate their workers on what their rights and responsibilities are.
The reality is that a lot of organizations, especially if they are of a certain size, are constantly monitoring what is being said online, be it by employees or customers or anybody else. They are very much aware of their brand.
Compounding the fact that what used to be relatively private griping by the water cooler is now being broadcast online is a general ignorance about defamation.
Many people – including celebrities – seem unaware that they could be sued for damaging someone’s reputation with reckless tweets or Facebook posts. For example, rock musician Courtney Love recently settled a defamation suit for $430,000 (U.S.) over tweets she had made. People are behaving online like they would talking with a buddy in a bar. There should be some thoughts that go into the comments before you press send, or you press post.
JEFF GRAY — LAW REPORTER
From Wednesday’s Globe and Mail
- A tweet too far? (idseye.com)
- Bosses peek at Facebookers’ personal lives (news.theage.com.au)
- 48% Of British Companies Have Banned Twitter At Work – AllTwitter (mediabistro.com)
- Another Courtney Love Twitter Fail? (webpronews.com)
- Morgan Stanley brokers get OK to tweet, should they? (loiclemeur.com)
- Tweets That Will Get You Fired (blogs.forbes.com)
- Half of UK Businesses Ban Social Media at Work (thenextwomen.com)
- 47% of Facebook Walls Contain Profanity, but Should Employers Give a Darn? (techland.time.com)