Irresponsible Facebook Postings Cost Two B.C. Workers

by Jordan Richardson on December 10, 2010

I’m a pretty regular visitor of the hilarious FailBlog, a site dedicated to, well, failure in its many forms. The funniest section of the site, in my opinion, is Failbook. Very often filled with silly and/or idiotic Facebook statuses or conversations discretely posted on the site, the Failbook section serves as a reminder of just how many people misunderstand how the internet works.

Among my favourite postings ever is one in which a young woman trashes her boss via Facebook status message only to receive a reply from…her boss. Apparently the young woman had forgotten that she had friended her boss. He fired her.

Now a very similar case is making its way through the British Columbia Labour Relations Board after two workers at a car dealership were fired over Facebook posts they wrote about their employer and some of their managers. It is believed that this is the first time such a case has been brought before a labour board in the country, although the lawyer for the employer believes that there are more to come.

The two employees didn’t do themselves any favours, defaming their employer and managers in just about every conceivable way and leaving the evidence right out in the open. Like the case with the obtuse young women mentioned above, one of the managers in question was a Facebook friend of one of the employers. Some of the posts involved were even made from work computers, compounding the numbskull nature of the situation.

The posts, certainly little more than the resultant giddy and offensive glee of sluggish minds, apparently accused the employer and managers of crookedness and performing homosexual acts on one another. As is commonplace among such imbecilic jackasses, threats of violence were also included.

To what degree these posts and these sorts of things should be taken seriously is up for grabs. After all, there are many who make the case that this sort of Facebook chatter is the digital age’s equivalent of water cooler banter or bathroom stall scribblings. Talking trash about one’s boss is nothing new in the workplace, so it’s doubtful that the employers and managers experienced much by way of emotional distress.

Some complications have also come to light. The workplace, a car dealership in Pitt Meadows, was apparently recently unionized. The United Food and Commercial Workers say that this was behind the firings, as one of the workers was actually an organizer in the drive to get the union placed in the dealership. The other worker was a union supporter.

While labour board vice-chair Alison Matacheskie still found the employer justified in the firings, she did note that it was “puzzling and suspicious” in terms of the timing.

There’s little doubting the idiocy of the employees in this case, but there’s also a reason that this case made its way to the labour board in the first place. Employers often lack a comprehensive, definable policy with respect to social networking and internet use in the workplace. With so much of social networking constituting new ground, puerile actions may take on costly significance if employers and employees don’t agree to a code of conduct.

Thanks to I Can Has Cheezburger? for the pic.

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JC December 10, 2010 at 6:31 am

My workplace has me under contract not to be a bad representative to the company or put it down publicly. I always figured that includes public facebook status messages..

Jordan Richardson December 10, 2010 at 6:56 am

I think that would depend on the workplace, of course. Some have such a policy in place, some don’t. And then there’s the area in between.

The Globe and Mail link details the story of Dawnmarie Souza, an American emergency medical technician fired after she criticized her boss on her personal Facebook page and through messages to co-workers. The messages, it would appear, were private.

In that case, the National Labor Relations Board decided in favour of Souza: “The point is that employees have protection under the law to talk to each other about conditions at work.”

So the question is the extension of that protection. Surely you can’t expect to slander your company or your boss and not face repercussions, but what I think it being established here is a sort of territorial legal sense around what social networking means and how that translates to the workplace. What does the “social” in social networking mean and what governance does the law and the workplace have over your “social” life?

BurnedBySocialMedia December 13, 2010 at 12:52 pm

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