B.C. workers fired for Facebook comments

Labour board upholds what is thought to be first Facebook-related dismissal in Canada
|employmentlawtoday.com|Last Updated: 11/04/2010

The firing of two employees by a British Columbia car dealership over comments they posted on Facebook has been upheld by the B.C. Labour Relations Board.

The employees, who worked in the detailing shop at West Coast Mazda in Pitt Meadows, B.C., had been organizing a unionization of the workforce and succeeded in joining a union in August. During the unionization drive, the workers posted various derogatory and offensive comments in the statuses of their Facebook accounts. Over time, the comments became more angry, particularly once the union was certified. One comment referred to stabbing “somebody” in the face 14 or 16 times. Another said the employee was “feeling tactical, vengefull (sic) and retaliatory.”

However, the two employees included West Coast Mazda managers and co-workers among their 377 and 100 Facebook friends, respectively, who were able to see every comment they posted. As the comments got worse and included homophobic slurs and threats, West Coast Mazda decided to fire them.

The union filed a complaint with the board, arguing the workers were fired for anti-union reasons and were targeted because of their union organizing activities.

However, the board disagreed and supported the firings, finding the Facebook comments, which went out to many other employees of West Coast Mazda, constituted just cause for dismissal. It found the dealership was faced with an uncertain situation, not having dealt with Facebook issues related to the workplace before, so it initially kept tabs on the comments. However, as the comments escalated, it was within its rights to take action.

Despite the fact the comments were made off-site during non-work hours, the board found they contributed to a hostile work environment and constituted insubordination.

West Coast Mazda’s lawyer, Don Richards, told the Vancouver Province it was the first case of dismissal in B.C. related to Facebook and perhaps the first in Canada.

“In the past if you cussed out the bosses on the shop floor it was worse because it undermines the bosses’ authority,” said Richards. “But in this case it was the cyberspace equivalent of cussing out the boss, not only in front of other employees, but a couple hundred members of the public as well.”

Richards warned employees shouldn’t expect any privacy on Facebook and anything work-related they put on the site for everyone to see could affect their employment.

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