In the latest incident of an employee’s social media activity landing him/herself in hot water with an employer, media outlets reported last week that a Toronto-area mechanic was fired after allegedly tweeting the following: “Any dealers in Vaughan wanna make a 20sac chop? Come to Keele/ Langstaff Mr. Lube, need a spliff or two to help me last this open to close.”
That apparent invitation for local dealers to come to the individual’s workplace and supply him with marijuana came to the attention of the York Regional Police, and prompted the following witticism in response: “Awesome! Can we come too?” In addition, the Police evidently notified Mr. Lube, with the result that the employee was subsequently terminated, and the employer tweeted the following: “Thank you to the York Regional Police for your help and great work. The matter has now been handled.”
It is not known whether the employer took the position that the dismissal was for just cause; however, regardless of the characterization of the termination, this case represents another example of an employee’s conduct on social media leading to adverse consequences in employment.
The modern age of social media is one in which the traditional paradigms of private and public communication increasingly blur and overlap—sometimes inherently, and (apparently) sometimes inadvertently. Although an author may intend (or be under the mistaken impression), for example, that his/her postings on Twitter and Facebook are private, the nature of such media is that their contents are effectively displayed on “billboards” in cyberspace.
To continue the metaphor, should the wrong person (for example, the York Regional Police or one’s employer) drive past or be directed to such a billboard, negative consequences may well ensue.
The lesson in this case (and others like it) is that, as is so often repeated on television drama, “anything you say can and will be used against you.” If an employer becomes aware of communications that disclose an employee’s:
- misconduct on the job (such as, for example, inviting drug dealers to the workplace for the purposes of an illegal transaction);
- intention to create a health & safety risk (such as, for example, by being under the influence of an illegal intoxicant during working hours); and/or
- other conduct, either on or off the job, which is incompatible with ongoing employment (such as, for example, the extremely poor judgment manifest in trying to use a public Twitter account to arrange the purchase of marijuana),
then the individual’s employment will quite naturally be at risk. (Although the question of whether or not “just cause” exists will be a separate matter.)
That has been true since well before the advent of social media, and it will remain true going forward– regardless of whether the information in question comes to the employer’s attention directly, or via a metaphorical “little bird” that “tweet, tweets” (or, to use the modern vernacular, “re-tweets”) the information into the employer’s ear.