When can you fire an employee for a social media post?

How Businesses Can Leverage Social Media Without Wasting Time
October 6, 2018
How to actually put social media to work for your business
October 18, 2018
Show all

When can you fire an employee for a social media post?

Have you heard about Stephanie Katelnikoff? The CP rail employee who may or may not have been fired for her social media posts.

Each week I get notifications about employees who have been fired for posts to social media. Highlighting a serious issue within workplaces everywhere: not everyone is connecting the dots between online activity and offline consequences; most employers still unclear about how to handle situations that arise out of what they deem as unsavoury social media activity involving employees.

Image of Stephanie KatelnikoffA CP rail employee was fired as a result of social media activity (posting images to her Facebook page and Instagram.) CP Rail came to the conclusion that Katelnikoff’s conduct violated their code of ethics, as well as their internet and email policy. They released this statement:

“Ms. Katelnikoff’s termination related to her decision to post photos of herself in unsafe situations on railway property and equipment, committing railway safety violations, along with disparaging remarks regarding the company.” [Read Full Statement]

However, the story is a little more convoluted than that.

Timeline:

  • July 2014 – Katelnikoff hired by CP Rail
  • 2014 – Filed a sexual harassment complaint against fellow employee
  • December 2014 – Was involved in the Banff train derailment
  • January 2015 – Katelnikoff worked in the train yard for a few days after the derailment and was fired
  • February 2015 – Katelnikoff speaks to media about being fired. Cites lack of training, as well as her injury claim as factors that led to termination. CP Rail provided a statement: “Ms. Katelnikoff was not dismissed for one single issue, she was dismissed because of a number of events over her six-month probationary period.”
  • February 2015 – Files a grievance with her union (Teamsters)
  • February 2016 – Arbitrator Maureen Flynn who found that Katelnikoff’s dismissal was arbitrary. “Overall, the Arbitrator finds that the grounds cited for Ms. Katelnikoff’s dismissal are factually inaccurate and unfounded…Furthermore, those allegations appear to be a camouflage of the Company’s actual reasons that are discriminatory and in bad faith.”
  • February 2016 – Katelnikoff was reinstated to her job with CP Rail
  • August 2016 – Katelnikoff posted a YouTube video where she openly criticized the then CEO Hunter Harrison.
  • 2016 – She received a written warning. Claiming that her conduct in posting the video displayed ‘gross insubordination and insolence’ and also constituted a ‘serious breach of CP’s Code of Business Ethics.’
  • November 2017 – Katelnikoff fired for violating their Code of Ethics, as well as email and internet policies
  • August 2018 – Katelnikoff files human rights complaint

Facts regarding her latest termination:

  • CP claims safety was an issue, as well as a violation of their code of ethics, and email and internet policies.
  • They shared images from Katelnikoff’s social media accounts in their investigative package.
  • The investigating officer called her content ‘graphic’
  • Employment lawyers believe that this could hurt their case [just cause termination] because it looks like they’re trying to impose their own moral standards on employees. [When can an employer fire for social media post?

But the real problem is that there’s a HUGE gap between our understanding of free speech and reality.

Image of Stephanie Katelnikoff with caption about human rights complaint regarding CP RailEmployer Rights

  • Employers have the right to reprimand employees in instances of insubordination, fraud, theft and breach of confidentiality and/or trust. But the consequences must be reasonable and match what has been done.
  • Employers can include stipulations in employment policies that prohibit discussing the company online and offline.

Employee Rights

  • Employees have a right to self-expression.* [This only applies to government not private organizations.]
  • Even still, it doesn’t mean you’re free from consequence.

When I advise employers on guidelines and training, we spend a lot of time discussing Charter and Constitutional Rights. The challenge is that most people believe they are protected because of laws that have been put in place to protect citizens from government interference. Which creates a false sense of security when they’re behind the keyboard.

When can you fire an employee for what they post online?

  • the comment has a direct impact on the employer’s business such as harming the (harms the employer’s reputation and/or legitimate economic interests)
  • the comment is disparaging or subordinate toward the employer or other co-workers
  • the comment is in violation of a workplace policy that the employee was aware of such as a confidentiality agreement.
  • the comment violates the criminal code.

(Source: Macleod Law Firm)

How can organizations cover their behinds so they don’t find themselves in a similar predicament? 

(1) Clear Social Media Guidelines

(2) Social Media Training For Employees

Stephanie called CP Rails Code of Ethics a fictional comedy; whether it was or wasn’t, it didn’t clearly articulate their expectations with regard to social media activity.

In order to set everyone up for success, it’s important to put together a guideline and/or policy that your employees will not only understand but they will respect. Equally as important is offering them training so they can connect the dots between what happens online and the consequences offline.

Learn more about social media training for your employees right here.  

Kat Macaulay, BA ADdPR BnC
Kat Macaulay, BA ADdPR BnC
Kat Macaulay is a Marketing Strategist, Writer + Speaker known for her no-nonsense approach to pretty much everything. Using data insights, she helps organizations market more effectively to get results that matter. She's also a high-scoring instructor at Mount Royal University, where she teaches Social Media Analytics and Google Analytics + Marketing Measurement. She holds certifications from Google, as well as Facebook and is currently working toward a specialization in Marketing Analytics and a certificate in Data Science from IBM. When she’s not busy juggling kids, volunteering + work, she’s busy planning her retirement to Cape Breton.