Can employees be fired for bad behaviour outside of the workplace?

With the advent of social media, employees need to consider the professional ramifications of behaviour outside of work.

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.

Bad behaviour

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 disputes.

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.

Employment law

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 possible.

Keywords: vulgarities, misogynistic, unionized, potential problems,potential pitfalls, employment dispute,