How to deal with employees making inappropriate comments on social media

Can they be disciplined, or even terminated?

How to deal with employees making inappropriate comments on social media

It wasn’t the first time it has happened to an employee but this week, a high-profile individual won, then lost a job, because of previous public comments made via social media.

Sandro Grande, a former professional player, was hired on Monday by CF Montreal, a Major League Soccer (MLS) as a member of the organization’s reserve team — but his hiring was met with immediate negative reaction and he was dismissed.

“We recognize that the hiring of Sandro Grande was a mistake, and we regret any repercussions that may have been caused by this decision,” says Gabriel Gervais, president and CEO of CF Montreal.

The executive made his comments during a press conference at Centre Nutrilait, the team’s training facility.

In 2012, then Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois was giving a victory speech in Montreal, when a gunman opened fire, killing one and injuring another.

In the wake of the shooting, Grande allegedly posted online the comments: “The only mistake the shooter made last night was to miss his target!!! Marois!!! Next time my guy! I hope!”

‘Powerful tool’

While this seemed to be a no-brainer for the pro team, 86 per cent of employers say they would fire an employee based on inappropriate posts, finds Express Employment Professionals.

“Social media is a powerful tool for expression and connection, but a poor decision in content posting can haunt individuals for the rest of their careers,” says Bill Stoller, Express Employment International CEO.

“The best advice is to refrain from publishing anything you wouldn’t want your boss to see or think you may regret in the future.”

While these instances continue to plague employers, when can an employee be fired for out-of-office conduct?

“Any just cause termination of an employee will be very exceptional,” says Mike MacLellan, partner at law firm CCP. “Even in the most clearcut situations, there has to be something really egregious — some willful misconduct that irreparably severs the employment relationship.

For an employee to be disciplined, much less terminated for something they did outside of their workplace or working hours, their actions would have to be connected, and detrimental, to the business, says MacLellan.

Front line of abuse

And while the employer is at risk of some serious reputational harm, the same is true for employees and recently, journalists have come under heavy fire from the outside world via the internet.

Many are facing pressure on different sides that may affect the stories they report, says Heba Kandil, senior manager for media freedom at the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The latest in the list of journalists’ troubles is “this big toxic flow of online violence that, in many cases, turned offline as well,” she says.

“No one can deny that the media is at a very grave period.”

In February, the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) expressed concern about “the alarming rise in harassment and threats against journalists” covering the “Ottawa occupation protests” and similar demonstrations across the country.

Currently, nearly seven in 10 (69 per cent) of journalists and media workers are suffering from anxiety and 46 per cent go through depression, according to the Taking Care: a report on mental health, wellbeing and trauma among Canadian media workers report.

But it’s non only journalists who are being targeted.

Recently, a woman who calls herself a recruiter posted a video on TikTok expressing strong views about her occupation in relation to a certain group of people. The video has had more than 2.3 million views and has come to the attention of the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) – of which the maker of the video has been identified as a member.

The HRPA tweeted that it didn’t condone the content of the video and would review its Rules of Professional Conduct to see if there was a breach.

Legal questions

Employers have struggled with managing social media in the workplace since it became a thing.

The question of what they can legally do if an employee posts something offensive or harasses someone online that can be difficult to answer, although there have been instances of the issue being addressed in employment law circles.

What type of action the employer can take depends on several factors, including the risk to the employer’s reputation, any effects on other employees, and whether the employer has clear social medial and employee conduct policies that have been breached.

  • There’s a lot of controversy on social media these days, and most companies would prefer to stay out of it. When employees cause trouble online that it could affect coworkers, the company, or the company’s values, the employer will likely have to take some action to address it and keep the social media presence of the company and its employees out of the cesspool.

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