Former worker sued for defamatory Facebook posts

Former worker sued for defamatory Facebook posts

Former worker sued for defamatory Facebook posts

Current employees can easily land themselves in hot water for thoughtless social media posts – but what about those who no longer work for you? According to a recent case from Quebec, they too may have to face the repercussions of their unacceptable online behaviour.

The case, Servant c. Ritchie, involved former employee Ian Ritchie who was fired from his role as an attendant at the Monseigneur Blanche Residence – a private care facility in Sept-Iles.

Ritchie worked for the facility for a brief period in February 2016 but was dismissed for failing to meet its service standards – not long after, he posted the following message on his personal Facebook page:

“When you work in a private care home and you see an attendant drag a patient by the legs, that is not good… But when you speak to your boss about it and he shows you the door, saying that you’re criticising the work done by your [colleagues]… What does one say then????” [Translation]

Around 20 people commented on the post and some suggested that Ritchie publicize the content more widely – the following day, he posted a second message on “Spotted Sept-Iles,” a public Facebook page followed by more than 10,000 people.

The post repeated Ritchie’s allegations that he had seen an attendant drag a person with an intellectual disability to her room by the feet and claimed once again that he was fired for criticizing the work of his colleagues.

The posts soon garnered widespread attention within the community and lead to a formal investigation into attendant conduct by the regional Integrated Health Centre.

While the investigation cleared the Monseigneur Blanche Residence of any wrongdoing, owners Nancy Servant and Mohamed Ahmed insisted the damage had already been done and launched a legal claim.

The pair brought proceedings for defamation and managed to prove that Ritchie’s Facebook posts were entirely false – Justice Le Reste went on to award a total of $17,500 in damages.

Amanda Shaw, an associate with Siskinds law firm, says the case offers extra strength to employers who may have to deal with a disgruntled former employee.

“[The case] confirms that the consequences of resorting to social media to badmouth an employer don’t stop with the end of the employment relationship,” she writes.

“While it’s important to note that this result depended in part on the fact that Ritchie did not defend the claim and that Sept-Iles is a small, tight-knit community, it’s equally valuable to remember that even after an employee’s departure, there are routes for employers to curtail bad behaviour.”

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