With just a click you can share your opinion with billions of people. (Which also means you can get in trouble faster and easier.)
Last week news broke that an Indigenous leader has filed a $1B lawsuit over the Loblaws bread price-fixing scandal. I originally saw the article (cc: CBC) via LinkedIn. Typically I don’t look at controversial stories on social channels anymore because of the nasty comments. But I figured that since it was LinkedIn, people would be professional. In the words of Donald Trump: “Wrong!”
Social Media does not operate in a vacuum. If you post something online, whether you’re on the clock or off the clock, you can be held responsible. That could mean suspension, termination of employment, loss of business etc.
Consider this: you work for a company that employs people from all backgrounds. How would you feel coming into to work only to learn in a meeting with your HR department that stuff you’ve been sharing on Twitter about “immigrants to Canada” leads to your coworkers not actually wanting to work with you; in fact, the guy who owns the company is second-generation Canadian (something you didn’t know) and the digital footprint you’ve left behind confirms that your beliefs are not in alignment with company values and beliefs. What do you think is going to happen?
Employees should be allowed to use Social Media for self-expression. So how can an employer fire an employee for something posted online, off-the-clock on a personal account?
But there’s more. Remember the Playboy Playmate who took a Snapchat of an unsuspecting naked older woman in a locker room? Not only was this is poor taste, it was illegal. The consequences for her was termination from her job, banned for life from LA Fitness, sentenced to community service and three years probation plus, she lost her privacy. Possibly even lower was the man who left horrific comments on a memorial page for Amanda Todd. He was fired.
If you read nothing more of this post, just remember that it doesn’t matter if you’re taking part in these activities on your own personal time, on your own personal devices off-the-clock, you can still be fired and held legally responsible.
What about Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Expression?
In Canada, freedom of speech is protected as a “fundamental freedom” through Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and in the United States, it is protected under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
It’s important to note that the right of free speech only prevents government restriction on speech, not restrictions imposed by private individuals and businesses (unless acting on behalf of the government.) Consider these other examples of restriction: Criminal Code and Human Rights provisions which limit hate speech, municipal by-laws regulating signage or where protests may take place, civil defamation (libel) actions… etc. (ccla.org)
Most employers don’t track every movement of their employees; nor do they want to. However, from time-to-time a screenshot may come across their desk and in an effort to protect the reputation of their company they may need to take action. On the flip-side, most Employees don’t set out to embarrass or harm the reputation of their respective employers, but it can happen.
How do you avoid these situations?
Social Media Guidelines. First, if you’re an employee and you’re not sure whether your company has a social media policy or guideline, ask!
Second, if you’re an employer, and you don’t have a social media guideline or a policy in place – now is the time to do it! These policies should identify what employees can and cannot do; they should be specific and unambiguous. FYI: Dismissals are generally upheld where the employment contract contains a clause governing social media use as it relates to the workplace.(Source: Rudner MacDonald LLP)
Social Media Training. Many organizations now offer social media training to employees. The reality is that even with a guideline in place, some things may not be clear. Training is a solid method for companies to express their expectations and communicate rights of the employer and employee. I let employees know which conduct will or won’t be tolerated, gives everyone the right tools for success online.
Headline Checks. It’s not just the average Joe causing trouble online; company leaders have been known to share inappropriate comments that get them in trouble (e.g.: Justine Sacco) So before you hit send, ask yourself if you’re adding value to the conversation happening online. If your comment goes viral, will you be able to defend it or will you want to crawl under a rock?
Think, before you think, before you post. Remember that Freedom of Speech doesn’t give anyone the right to be an a***ole online.
How to write a social media guideline that your employees will understand
Social Media Training For Employees
Human Resources: addressing negative social media posts online
How To Use Social Media During Real Crisis Situations
Social Media, Freedom of Speech and Employment