Use Twitter with Caution

Date: 2011
Author: Daniel A. Lublin
Publication: Metro

Twitter addicts face workplace consequences

“Chrysler Group and its brands do not tolerate inappropriate language or behavior, and apologize to anyone who may have been offended by this communication.” So read Chrysler’s press release following the dismissal of an employee at its public relations firm who mistakenly tweeted on Chrysler’s account that no one in Detroit knows how to drive.
In many respect, that example signals a growing trend: employees tweeting “casually” about their lives not realizing that what they say on Twitter has workplace-related consequences. Here are some common areas of concern:

  • Spending an inordinate amount of time using Twitter at work for non-business-related purposes is tantamount to theft of an employer’s time, which can be cause for dismissal.
  • Comments posted on Twitter can link the author to her employer, even though no connection is intended. Contact information on Twitter accounts often includes a place of work, and therefore employees who tweet objectionable or defamatory material may be mistakenly perceived as having done so for their employer, which is exactly what happened in the Chrysler case above. Because of this, employers have a right to monitor their employees’ tweets, even when they are made outside of business hours.
  • Criminal laws can also be invoked if employees harass or intimidate co-workers through Twitter. These employees can end up surfing the classifieds for a criminal defence lawyer, as well as for a new job. Further, since courts have used blog or Facebook posts as grounds to uphold discipline, they will have little difficulty construing tweets in the same manner.
  • Also, unlike general Internet use, which is private, Twitter posts do not simply disappear. Tweets containing offensive comments, pictures or links to stories become incontrovertible evidence of an employee’s behaviour. Like an email, a tweet can be traced back to the originator, long after the fact.
  • If employees share or mistakenly share confidential corporate information, this too could be cause for dismissal.

In light of the foregoing, Twitter addicts should beware. While there are no current judgments considering the propriety of a dismissal for Twitter use, as Twitter’s popularity continues to rise, so will the number of ex-employees looking for new work, along with seeing their names on the front of one of my statements of claim.