Facebook at work

Date: 2010
Author: Daniel A. Lublin
Publication: Metro

Facebook postings can come back to haunt employees

“The Complainants could not have a serious expectation of privacy when publishing comments on their Facebook websites and therefore the comments are damaging to the Employer’s business.” So concluded B.C. Labour Relations Board in upholding the dismissal of two employees fired for Facebook comments they posted about their employer, in an important decision released last month.
That case should give employees pause, since many employees too easily confuse freedom of speech with freedom from workplace consequences. Here are a few ways employees can be fired for Facebook use at work:

  • Spending an inordinate amount of time on Facebook while at work is tantamount to theft of an employer’s time, which can amount to cause for dismissal. In these circumstances, seldom is Facebook being used for exclusively business purposes.
  • When Facebook postings reveal unsavoury characteristics, employees can be fired. I’ve had two such cases. In one, the employee’s pictures of her messy workstation irked her employer so much, she was immediately dismissed. In the other, a large retail chain fired a store manager after he posted a link to a video of himself that was taken when he was off-duty, but in company uniform.
  • Comments about a company’s clients or products can lead to dismissal. Given the value placed on confidential information, courts are more likely to respect an employer’s decision to fire an employee whose postings compromised, or even potentially compromised, a competitive advantage.
  • Criminal laws can also be invoked if employees harass or intimidate coworkers via Facebook. These employees can end up surfing the classifieds for a criminal defence lawyer, as well as for a new job.
  • But it’s not just Facebook use while at work that can land you in my office seeking legal advice. Facebook profiles and postings created and maintained outside of working hours and on employees’ personal time can quickly derail an employee’s career, if the content brings his or her employer’s reputation into disrepute.

Here are some tips to keep employees out of hot water: do not post “casually” about your job or adversely comment about other employees or your boss. Your employer can and will often monitor what you’ve written. Familiarize yourself with any computer use policies in place. While some personal web use is often permitted at work, much is forbidden.