We have noticed in the weeks after the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7 a lot of reporting in the media of various individuals making comments on social media relating to the fallout of that attack and getting in trouble because of those comments.
Now many employees may also be thinking about whether public comments made on social media about divisive topics like the Israel-Hamas war could be used by the employer as a reason to terminate the employee.
The answer to that question is yes, the employer may fire an employee for making certain comments about conflict-ridden topics on social media. In Ontario, an employer can terminate or fire an employee for any reason if the reason is not discriminatory or in violation of some statute. However, the employer must provide the employee with notice of termination or pay in lieu thereof.
To terminate or fire an employee for cause, meaning that the employee does not receive notice or pay in lieu thereof, the employer must have a good reason to terminate the employee. Employees who are guilty of lying, stealing, falsifying records, breaching company policy or code of conduct, etc. could be fired for cause.
In the context of social media posts, it would probably be posts that are objectively discriminatory and / or inciting hatred toward any one group, that would be posts that an employer may use to terminate an employee for cause. In fact, employers are bound statutorily to provide their employees with a safe working environment. As such, social media posts that contain statements regarding violence, harassment, obscenity, intimidation or bullying have been used by employers to fire the employee for cause. Basically, if social media posts relating to a divisive issue like the Israel-Hamas war can be characterized as harmful, and especially if that post is targeted to another group, the more there is a risk that when the employer becomes aware of that post that they may then fire the employee for cause because of it.
Employers should consider updating their company policies, to ensure their employees are aware of what public statements could potentially affect their future employment with that employer. It should be clear to employees that making certain statements publicly is against that employer’s rules and that it could lead to discipline or termination. It may very well depend on the employer’s own reputation, viewpoint and industry when it comes to what it will tolerate with respect to online social media posts of its employees. For instance, one employer may be very keen to limit divisive statements relating to politics or social issues while others will not be as interested. One employer may be more sensitive to accusations that their employees are engaging in online bullying or harassment than another. Our suggestion would be, again, for the employer to update their company policy if they have not already done so to ensure that their employees are aware of what is acceptable and what is not with respect to their own personal online posts.