A case that made the papers late last week, is a good example of why employers should not believe everything they see or hear about an employee from social media or that is communicated to them electronically. In taking a closer look at this recent example, we offer suggestions on how employers could handle issues that arise from employees’ information on social media.

An Ottawa restaurant owner was found guilty of criminal libel after it was found that she defamed a customer who posted a negative review on line. The defamatory activity consisted of the restaurant owner sending several highly sexualized emails to the CEO and Board of Directors of the organization in which the customer works. These emails were ostensibly authored by the customer/employee herself, and in them, she claimed to be a “tiger in the bedroom”, trans-gendered, and someone who enjoyed threesomes and group sex.

Several days after the emails were sent, the restaurant owner set up a phony profile on a dating site for the customer/employee. It was, according to the newspaper reports of the case, quite “racy”.

The restaurant owner has now been convicted of criminal libel, as a result of what the trial judge called her “venomous” behavior. She will be sentenced next month.

One can only assume that the customer’s employer saw both sources of information.

We don’t know what actually transpired between this employer and this employee. However, the case is a good jumping off point to consider what should have happened. The more we learn about electronic communication and social media, the more we realize that it is very easy to manipulate. As a result, an employer should not automatically assume that all or any employee information that comes to it in electronic or social media form is either accurate or written by the person identified as the author. In fact, an employer should not automatically assume that even if this information is accurate, it is relevant to the employee’s status within the workplace. What the employer should have done – and hopefully did do – is ask the employee whether she was the source of the emails and the dating profile, and, if she was not, what she knew about how the material came about. The employer should then carefully consider the employee’s response with an open mind before taking any steps that negatively affect the employee’s employment.

Think about this from a recruitment perspective, and the advent of social media checks. Information from a “racy” dating site profile might have meant a red light had the employee been applying for work. The employee would have lost out on a job, and the employer would have lost out on a good candidate all on the basis of information that might have looked legitimate but was inaccurate and fabricated by someone else.

As the workplace becomes increasingly influenced by all forms of social media, it is crucial for employers to remember that what you see isn’t necessarily what you get, when it comes to employees’ social media profiles.