Control over employee social media activities

Keeping track of employee online activity
By Tim Mitchell
|Canadian Employment Law Today|Last Updated: 11/25/2013

Question: How much authority can an employer exercise over what an employee posts on social media on her own time, particularly if the employer's public image is important to its business? What about if the employee specifically mentions the employer or other employees?

Answer: The degree of authority an employer can exercise over what an employee posts on social media during her off time depends on a number of factors including -- but not limited to -- whether or not the employee is using a computer belonging to the employer, whether that employer has a social media/information technology policy and, of course, what the employee is posting about. This answer focuses on the postings themselves. There must be a nexus or some sort of connection between the posting and the employer/workplace to warrant employer interference.

Employers have already started exercising indirect authority over what employees post on social media in their free time by using such postings as evidence to justify termination. In Lougheed Imports Ltd. v. U.F.C.W., Local 1518, the British Columbia Labour Relations Board found that the employer, an automotive detailing and accessory shop, had proper cause to dismiss two employees for comments about their employer on Facebook. The postings included “very offensive, insulting and disrespectful comments about supervisors or managers,” “clearly identified and referenced discipline [the employee] received at work,” and also contained “damaging comments about the Employer's business.” The board found the employees “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.”