The Internet can prove hazardous to your employment if you post opinions on a weblog
A recent press report in Ontario indicated that an employer dismissed a number of employees who made allegedly derogatory comments about the employer on an Internet chat site.
According to the story, a forum bearing the name of the employer had been established on the site, where some employees congregated and made comments about their on-the-job experiences.
Some sounded off about their difficulties at work that day. Some of the comments were unkind to the employer, and some comments were unkind to customers of the employer. The employer terminated the offending employees for making verbal attacks against customers and staff, as well as for breaching the company’s ethics code.
One terminated employee who contributed later commented that he felt the site was a place to unwind and was similar to a locker room; implying that what was said in a locker room stays in that locker room.
The terminated employees, it seems, were turned in by fellow employees, who showed the employer the offending chat room comments.
In Internet parlance, the terminated employees got ‘dooced’. The term dooced has come to mean being fired for making objectionable posts to a website or blog. The term was based on an employee terminated from her job in 2002 having made derogatory comments about her employer and fellow employees on her own weblog, dooce.com.
Obviously, the point of this story is that the reach of the employer is a long one. The employee may come under some sort of duty of good conduct owed to the employer, perhaps even in making comments on what was assumed to be an arena of privacy or personal thought outside of the workplace.
With corporate e-mail, however, the story is slightly different.
Everyone should know by now that e-mail provided by the employer for the use of the employee is and remains the property of the employer. There can be no privacy for the employee in relation to e-mails sent or received on the employers e-mail server.
This knowledge should have some sanitizing effect on the content and volume of e-mail employees send or receive via the employers’ server.
However, as with many things human, there are some who seem not to have heard the news that sending or receiving e-mails with objectionable or derogatory content can be hazardous to one’s continued employment.
One employee learned the hard way that it is not consistent with continued employment to call your boss a “fat b*****d” via the employer’s e-mail server. Another employee who was seen to have sent and received a large volume of personal e-mail via the employer’s server, learned that such behaviour probably points to poor performance that may lead to justifiable termination of employment.
As well, the employer owns the computer and computer network it supplies the employee with in the workplace, and the employer is entitled to monitor the usage of that computer by that employee. Therefore, downloading pornography to the employer’s computer is probably fatal to continued employment. When people do things that are truly dumb, there is no helping them.
But termination, usually something to be avoided, is not necessarily the end of the story. As always, where termination was immediate and without notice, the employer bears the onus of proving it was justified.
The things that would become subject to analysis in concluding whether the termination was justified or not would be the content or volume of the e-mail website or blog, the audience of the e-mail website or blog, the effects of the e-mail website or blog on the proper conduct of the employer’s business, the effect of the e-mail website or blog on the employment relationship in question, whether the employer had a policy dealing with e-mail websites or blogs and how that policy addressed the situation in question, whether the policy contained some sort of progressive discipline that required warnings, and whether that progressive discipline should have been followed by the employer or whether outright termination was justified, and such.