First clear Facebook firing in Canada occurs in Pitt Meadows
Wed Nov 3, 5:19 PM
By Sam Cooper
In the first known Facebook firing in Canada, two Pitt Meadows car-detailing workers were canned for posting homophobic slurs and threats online against bosses who were their Facebook “friends.”
In an Oct. 22 ruling, the B.C. Labour Relations Board said West Coast Mazda management had proper cause to fire the two detailing-shop employees on Oct. 7, for making “disrespectful, damaging and derogatory comments on Facebook.”
The two employees, who can only be identified by the initials J.T. and A.P., had just unionized the car-detailing shop in late August, when a manager started tracking increasingly angry and aggressive Facebook posts made by the employees, about confrontations happening at work.
In a labour board hearing the union, United Food and Commercial Workers International, argued the workers were terminated because of management’s “anti-union” motivation — but the board rejected the allegation.
Don Richards, the lawyer who represented West Coast Mazda, says the firing case is the first involving Facebook in B.C. and it’s believed to be the first in Canada. Facebook, a social-networking site that has exploded in popularity, now has about 500 million users worldwide.
Manager John Clydesdale said he was pleased with the ruling and management is now working on a policy to inform workers what “is private and not private” on Facebook.
“Facebook is such a new thing for everybody,” he said.
The Pitt Meadows case had some interesting twists in addition to the alleged union-busting angle.
For one, the social network comments — which included “angry” Facebook status updates by J.T., including references to stabbing “somebody” in the face “14 or 16 times” and admiration of the “top five kills” from TV vigilante killer Dexter — were not made during work hours, or on work computers.
But the effect of the private-time comments amounted to insubordination and led to a hostile work environment, West Coast Mazda successfully argued.
“In the past if you cussed out the bosses on the shop floor it was worse because it undermines the bosses’ authority,” Richards, of the firm Farris Vaughan Wills & Murphy LLP, told The Province in an interview. “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.”
Also, the two employees — one who had 377 “friends” and the other about 100 — didn’t help themselves by the fact their managers had been included in their Facebook networks.
“The manager would get a buzz on his Blackberry each time a status change turned up on Facebook and he could just read the stuff, so that wasn’t the brightest thing,” Richards said.
The bottom line for the average worker is you can’t really expect any privacy on Facebook, Richards said.
“My advice is be very careful about what you put on Facebook, because once it’s out there, you kind of lose control over it, and it can have consequences on your employment.”
According to the board ruling, the key point in the decision was whether management at West Coast Mazda effectively targeted the two in-shop union leaders and let them hang themselves by secretly tracking their controversial Facebook posts.
“The main argument by the Union … is that the Employer started to compile a file on J.T.’s Facebook postings on Aug. 27, the date of the [union certification] application … until [the date of his firing] Oct. 6, without making any attempt at earlier corrective action,” the ruling states.
But a reading of the online commentary by J.T. and A.P. showed comments got progressively worse over time, and the board accepted management’s arguments that it was the first time dealing with a workplace Facebook dispute, and management finally took action as comments escalated.
For example, after posting about the perceived upcoming battle with management over labour relations on Sept. 8, J.T. posted on Sept. 17: “If somebody mentally attacks you, and you stab him in the face 14 or 16 times … that constitutes self defence doesn’t it????”
In the last relevant post on Oct. 1, J.T. wrote: “John is feeling tactical, vengefull and retaliatory.”