In Canada Post Corp. and C.U.P.W. (730-07-01912) (2012), the grievor, a postal clerk with 31 years of service, was discharged after management became aware of her inappropriate postings on her Facebook account. The postings were made over a one-month period and contained a number of derogatory, mocking statements about her workplace and supervisors. The employer argued that the postings were grossly insubordinate, had the potential to damage the reputation of the employer, and had greatly harmed the supervisors. The employee was terminated and the discharge was grieved.
In the grievance, the union accepted that the postings were regrettable but argued that they were the result of a toxic work environment. The grievor also thought her postings were private. The union submitted that dismissal was too harsh a penalty.
Having carefully considered the arguments from both sides, arbitrator Allen Ponak held that the grievor’s conduct constituted a just, reasonable and sufficient cause for dismissal in accordance with the collective agreement. In particular, the arbitrator concluded that “[t]here is ample case law that supports the principle that what employees write in their Facebook postings, blogs, and emails, if publicly disseminated and destructive of workplace relationships, can result in discipline.”
On that basis, the issue was whether the grievor’s misconduct was sufficiently serious to warrant discharge. For that purpose, the arbitrator examined the contents of the Facebook postings. He found that they were universally nasty in tone and content with frequent references to the grievor’s supervisor in vulgar and contemptuous terms. Some postings contained threats. Their discovery harmed the targeted managers who testified that they were extremely shaken by what they had read and needed substantial time off work for emotional distress and medical care. The arbitrator concluded that the postings went well beyond acceptable workplace and management criticism. Because they were shared with other workers who were the grievor’s Facebook friends, the postings undermined managerial authority and further poisoned an already challenging work environment. “The contents of the Facebook postings and the damage inflicted on two managers, combined with the absence of any sincere apology or recognition of wrongdoing, provide strong support for the decision of the Employer to dismiss the Grievor”.
The arbitrator also rejected the grievor’s defences that: (i) she believed that her postings were private; and (ii) that she was provoked. A belief in privacy did not relieve the grievor of the responsibility for what she wrote. The arbitrator thought it was a weak excuse to claim that there was no intention to harm the supervisors because they would never see the postings. The grievor’s provocation defence also failed because her response on Facebook was grossly disproportionate to the events complained of.
As this case illustrates, an employee’s offensive or inappropriate Facebook postings about workplace or management may lead to his or her legitimate discharge where it goes beyond acceptable workplace and management criticism and is accessible to co-workers or the public. This case represents another in a growing number of decisions relating to social media as it affects the workplace.