Derogatory blog posts result in a justified dismissal

September 1, 2008

An Alberta arbitration board has recently released a decision concerning the dismissal of an employee as a result of the contents of the employee's online blog site. In this case, an administrative employee in the Alberta Public Service (the "Grievor") was dismissed after the employer became aware of the contents of her personal blog.

The Grievor's blog contained unflattering comments about a number of her co-workers and management, referring to them as "imbeciles", "idiot savants" and "lunatic-in-charge". After an investigation, the Grievor was interviewed about her blog. Perceiving the Grievor as largely unrepentant, the employer terminated the Grievor's employment.

The employer took the position that the contents of the blog postings, the Grievor's lack of remorse and lack of understanding as to why the blog had been so offensive undermined the employment relationship irreparably, thereby justifying the Grievor's termination. This was especially so, in the employer's view, in a department that handled sensitive cases and whose well publicized values emphasized respect, fairness, and cooperation.

The Grievor's union, in challenging the dismissal, argued that the employer had overreacted, that the Grievor's attempts at an apology had been derailed by management, and that the Grievor had a previously unblemished record of six years service. As a remedy, the union sought reinstatement with appropriate compensation. The employer replied that in a relatively small workplace, it would be very unfair to the Grievor's co-workers for the Grievor to be reinstated in her employment.

In a 2-1 decision, the arbitration board denied the grievance and upheld the dismissal. The Board concluded that "while the Grievor has a right to create personal blogs and is entitled to her opinions about the people with whom she works, publicly displaying those opinions may have consequences within an employment relationship." The Board was satisfied that the Grievor, in expressing contempt for her managers, ridiculing her co-workers, and denigrating administrative processes, engaged in serious misconduct that irreparably severed the employment relationship, thereby justifying discharge.

Employees cannot simply invoke freedom of speech to publicly make derogatory comments online about co-workers or management or to disclose confidential information obtained in the course of employment.

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