For those unfamiliar with this vulgar form of harassment, “FHRITP” refers to the offensive trend of female reporters being heckled on-air by some miscreant shouting “f**k her right in the p***y!”

When CityNews reporter Shauna Hunt was targeted with that nonsense while interviewing fans outside a Toronto FC game this past Sunday, she challenged a group of men who appeared to be the heckler’s compatriots, and asked why they would want to do something like that.

As the camera rolled, one of those individuals (we’ll call him “Sunglasses Guy”) explained to Ms. Hunt that he thought it was “quite substantial”, and made it clear that he supported the heckling – in fact, he indicated that he and his friends had been waiting for the opportunity drop the FHRITP bomb, as it were.  Another of the group (we’ll call him “Scarf Guy”) then piped up – more loudly – saying that he thought it was “f**king hilarious” and “f**king amazing”, that “I respect it”, and that Ms. Hunt was “lucky there’s not a f**cking vibrator here.”

When Ms. Hunt asked Scarf Guy what his mother might think of his comments (after all, it was Mother’s Day), his answer was “My mom would die laughing eventually.”

Although we don’t know how Scarf Guy’s mother reacted (and whether he’s in fact had his mouth washed out with soap since Sunday), we do know how his employer reacted.

It turns out that Scarf Guy’s employer, Hydro One, saw the footage and they weren’t impressed. In fact, they were apparently so unimpressed that they decided that they didn’t want Scarf Guy working for them anymore.  And so they terminated his employment.

Although Scarf Guy clearly wasn’t on-duty when he offered his commentary on the FHRITP incident, that doesn’t mean that his conduct was irrelevant to the employment relationship.  Perhaps the best analogy is to say that Scarf Guy’s video-taped comments on Sunday are now a part (and likely a permanent part) of his resume.

In that regard, when an employer is making a decision about hiring an individual (or about maintaining the employment of an individual), it is their prerogative to consider that person’s overall suitability based on a variety of factors, including education, qualifications, professionalism, and character.  To a reasonable employer – indeed to any reasonable person – an individual’s participation in and/or enthusiastic endorsement of FHRITP harassment speaks volumes about his character and about the quality of his judgment.

In the circumstances, no one – least of all Scarf Guy himself – should be surprised that he’s lost his job over this. (That said, it’s not entirely clear whether Hydro One has taken the position that they had “just cause” to fire Scarf Guy without providing a termination package.)

As an employment lawyer, I offer the following points of perspective on this incident, for employers and employees alike:

  • In our current digital age, no one should assume that an employee’s off-duty conduct (particularly public conduct, and, needless to say, especially conduct being filmed by a news camera) won’t come to the attention of his or her employer.
  • In Ontario, an employer can terminate an individual’s employment for any reason, so long as that reason doesn’t represent a violation of human rights legislation.
  • Human rights legislation includes many important protections for employees; however, the list of protected characteristics does not include “being obnoxious”, “being insulting to women”, etc.—those are precisely the types of characteristics that can cost a person their job.
  • The question of whether an employee terminated for off-duty conduct is entitled to a severance packagewill depend on the circumstances – including whether or not the individual is unionized. In that regard, whereas a non-unionized employee can be terminated with or without just cause (i.e. with or without a termination package), unionized employees can basically only be discharged for just cause. On the question of just cause, if a unionized or non-unionized employee’s conduct reflects poorly on his or her employer and is damaging to the employer’s reputation, brand or business interests, it may represent just cause for his or her dismissal.

As a gentleman, I offer kudos to Shauna Hunt for putting her foot down, and to Hydro One for sending a strong message that the FHRITP “phenomenon” is no laughing matter.

No one with any class should participate in that sort of harassment.  No one – not Ms. Hunt or anyone else – should have to put up with it.  And none of us should sit on the sidelines and let comments like those presented by Scarf Guy and Sunglasses Guy go unchallenged.