In his November 2014 Communique “Let’s Take This Outside: Can Employers Discipline Employees for Off-Duty Conduct?”, Cole Lefebvre canvassed a number of cases in which the courts had to assess terminations employee misconduct outside the workplace. This topic has been hotly debated across Canada after recent controversy in Ontario.
The story of one Ontario man has been reported widely on mainstream and social media in recent weeks. The man was involved in gendered vulgarities hurled at a female news reporter outside the stadium after attending a professional soccer match. His employer, an Ontario utility company, terminated him the day after the story broke.
Shortly after the termination, the National Post conducted an interview with the company’s CEO. It provides interesting insight into the company’s decision-making process in assessing how to deal with the employee. And while this story hasn’t reached its conclusion yet (it is unclear if the former employee is unionized, or if he has grieved the termination), it is interesting that the utility company framed the termination as being based on a breach of “core values” outlined in an employee code of conduct which included provisions for off-duty behaviour. The company’s CEO explicitly stated, “This is not a women’s issue. This is an issue that transcends gender as far as I’m concerned. It was bad behaviour. In fact, it was reprehensible behaviour. We don’t want it in the workplace.”
In Saskatchewan and Ontario (among other provinces), workplace harassment is prohibited under occupational health and safety legislation. It will be interesting to see how stories like this play out in the future. Could this type of behaviour form a new type of cause for termination? Will workers in public roles (for example, news reporters) be able to claim protection from this type of behaviour under their provincial OH&S regime? If so, how will these types of protection work in practice?
Viral news stories can be fleeting. But stories like this one could have long-term implications on the field of labour and employment law.