Hit delete not SEND!
In the age of social media, the old saying, “loose lips sink ships” should really be changed to “loose fingers can sink your boat”. There is no rhyme but its true none the less. If you are ever tempted to rant about your boss online, take ten breaths and don’t. I guarantee it will be a bad idea.
If a person who is not in a union is terminated without just cause they will be entitled to a severance package based on their age, seniority and level of responsibility.
For unionized employees, however, if there is no just cause and they therefore win their grievance, they are almost always ordered reinstated with all or some of their back-pay.
Note that I used the word “almost”.
Craig had worked for a municipality for six years as a clerk and had no disciplinary record. He was an avid snooker fan, player and he managed a regional snooker organization.
One of his co-workers reported to management that he was spending a lot of time on the computer at work pursuing his snooker interests and they investigated.
It was true. He was using the computer contrary to well-known policies and storing personal documents on the server.
Instead of disciplining him, however, they just fired him.
Craig was in a union and filed a grievance. The arbitrators found that the employer should not have jumped the gun given his clean work record and instead should have given him at least a warning.
In the normal course of things, at that point they would have ordered him reinstated. But Craig’s loose fingers snookered that possibility.
While sitting at home stewing about his termination and blaming everyone but himself Craig sent lengthy Facebook messages to six of his co-workers and 40 of his Facebook contacts. He identified his manager by name and accused her of falsifying documents to set him up. He said she was “a special kind of evil” and a “truly ugly person”. He also referred to her as a “f*#cking loose-lipped corrupt witch”. The city was experiencing significant flooding at the time and he concluded by hoping her home was under water.
One of the things that an arbitrator considers before ordering an employee reinstated is whether or not there is still a viable employment relationship. Is it likely that some time will heal the wounds and allow the relationship to be viable? In this case, the arbitrators concluded that Craig’s messages had completely undermined the trust necessary to restore an employer/employee relationship. Through his own actions, Craig had destroyed the viability of any continuing employment relationship.
The content of Craig’s intemperate messages also revealed that he took no responsibility for his breaches of the employer’s policies. If you are asking an arbitrator to exercise their authority to re-instate you to your job, some expression of ownership for your actions and remorse is important. What is the point of a warning or suspension for an employee who believes they are blameless when that is clearly not the case? How do you maintain a working relationship with some who apparently has no capacity for self reflextion?
If not for his loose fingers, Craig would have ended up reinstated with, likely, most of his back pay. Some would call this a paid vacation. Instead, his childish reaction sunk his boat.
It is important to note that these were simply Facebook messages. It’s not like Craig posted something online for the world to see. But once they started circulating in his old office, the damage was done. Clearly one of Craig’s old office colleagues didn’t like him as much as he thought they did and shared the messages.
So type that nasty message if it makes you feel better. Enjoy the catharsis. But instead of hitting “send”, do yourself a favour and hit “delete”.
Ed Canning practices labour and employment law with Ross & McBride LLP, in Hamilton, representing both employers and employees. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org