Tweets, weed and work

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A man from the Toronto area has been dismissed by his employer after posting a request for marijuana on the popular social media site Twitter. On Tuesday, August 13, a Twitter user under the name of Sunith Baheerathan, posted the following:

"Any dealers in Vaughan wanna make a 20sac chop? Come to Keele/Langstaff Mr. Lube, need a spliff or two to help me last this open to close."

The post was apparently made while the man was on duty for his employer, Mr. Lube.  The York Regional Police noticed the post, which has since been removed, and replied with a tweet of their own:

"Awesome! Can we come too?"

On top of their humorous retort, the police also brought Sunith Baheerathan’s tweet to the attention of his employer. On Tuesday evening, Mr. Lube tweeted:

"Thank you to the York Regional Police for your help and great work. The matter has now been handled."

 This was followed by another tweet, this one from Mr. Baheerathan who wrote:

"Just got the call of termination."

And then yet another tweet from Mr. Baheerathan:

"Never knew weed smokers are more wanted in society than shooters & rapists. Big smh [shake my head] to all of y'all," the aspiring mechanic posted. "All I'm saying is, people take tweets way too serious lol. I'm in [expletive] tears. I just caused a whole controversy over one a tweet."

While Mr. Baheerathan may feel that people “take tweets way too serious lol”, the reality is that employers are within their rights to discipline employees who improperly use social media while they should instead be performing their duties.  A strong disciplinary response up to and including dismissal may be warranted in cases such as Mr. Baheerathan’s where the social media post in question puts the employer’s reputation or business interests at risk.  It should however be noted that it is unclear as to whether Mr. Lube dismissed Mr. Baheerathan on a “with cause” basis. 

When determining whether dismissal for cause is justified, an individual act of misconduct should not be considered in isolation. Instead, employers should apply a contextual analysis and consider not only the act of misconduct, but also the employee’s age and length of service, disciplinary record, the nature of the employee’s position, and his/her reaction to being confronted by the employer.  Each of these factors should be weighed before making a decision as to the appropriate (and proportional) disciplinary response.  Of course, an employer could instead elect to dismiss the employee by providing reasonable notice of dismissal or pay in lieu.

Employers are also encouraged to implement workplace policies that regulate their employee’s use of social media. Such a policy allows employers to argue that an impugned social media posting is not only objectionable in its own right, but is also a violation of a workplace rule.

- Alex Heaslip

For more information and advice contact a Miller Thomson lawyer at: labourandemployment@millerthomson.com.