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Is termination due to off-duty activities legal?

Social media and camera phones have made once private occasions public. Recent headlines of people losing their jobs when after-hours activities are made public have led many to ask whether termination due to behaviour outside of work is legal. Employees and employers alike should know their rights and responsibilities under Alberta law when it comes to reasonable termination.

Generally speaking, employers can fire someone for any reason, including behaviour outside of work. The exception to this rule is when there are discriminatory reasons for the employee's termination. Employees who lose their jobs due to discrimination are protected by Canadian and Alberta human rights legislation. If a terminated worker can make the argument that he or she lost their job due to discrimination, there may be a grounds to pursue a claim against the employer. In those circumstances, the employer may need to present proof of cause in court.

One example of this is a case where an employee was fired after being arrested at work. The crimes for which he was arrested caused a co-worker to feel unsafe, and the employee was subsequently terminated. The court found that without any questionable activity at work, the criminal charges for off-duty conduct were not enough cause to dismiss the employee.

If found in violation of Alberta and Canadian employment and human rights legislation, employers may be required to pay wrongful dismissal damages. To avoid this, employers should be sure to establish just cause prior to termination. Those who are facing such a lawsuit or who wish to get support in presenting a termination case should contact a civil lawyer.

Source: hrmonline.ca, "Can an employee be fired for actions outside of working hours?", Emily Douglas, Dec. 4, 2017

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Ridout Barron
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