As technology continues to advance, the line between our work and personal lives is becoming increasingly blurred. Smartphones, tablet computers, laptop computers, digital cameras and social networking sites give many of us instant and constant access to both our workplaces and our co-workers.
Impact On Employers of Employees’ Publicly Visible Misbehaviour Outside Workplace
One of the consequences of this line-blurring is that more and more employers are being affected by their employees’ actions outside the workplace. For Vancouver area businesses, this reality was made clear in the days following the Stanley Cup riots that took place in June 2011.
The combination of smartphone technology and social networking sites allowed images, videos and text messages of people participating in the riots to be widely disseminated in the following days. As a result, both they and, in some circumstances, their employers became the subject of public scrutiny. There have been reports of people losing their jobs because of their alleged participation in looting or other riot activities and of employers facing pressure to discipline employees who allegedly participated in unlawful activities.
Can An Employer Dismiss Employees For Behaviour Outside The Workplace?
While emotions were running high in Vancouver after the riots, the more dispassionate legal issue to consider is what steps can an employer take to respond to their employees’ outside-the-workplace behaviour? Can employees be dismissed with cause because of their behaviour outside the workplace? The answer to these questions—as is frequently the case with issues in employment law—is: “it depends.”
Care is warranted in any case where an employer is deciding whether grounds exist to terminate an employee for cause. However, where the grounds for the termination relate to behaviour outside work, even greater caution may be required.
What The Courts Look For
In such instances, when considering whether termination for activities outside work is warranted, the courts have held that there must be sufficient connection between the employee’s alleged behaviour and his or her employment. To determine if such a link exists, the courts consider the nature and seriousness of the impugned behaviour, the position the employee holds, and the nature of the employer’s business.
In circumstances where the employee’s behaviour harms the employer’s reputation, prevents or diminishes the employee’s ability to complete his or her employment obligations, causes other employees to refuse to work with him or her, or inhibits the employer’s ability to efficiently manage its business, the courts may find a sufficient connection to justify dismissal with cause.
Employers Should Think Carefully Before Acting
For employers, this means that they must carefully consider how the employee’s behaviour has affected its business. In every case, much will depend on the particular facts at issue. In short, there is no “cookie cutter” rule that applies to all circumstances.
As communications and computer technology continues to obscure the lines between our personal and professional lives, an employer must know how to respond when an employee’s actions outside the workplace affect its business. While the law does not prevent an employer from dismissing an employee for cause in these circumstances, the employer must carefully consider the interaction between the employee’s behaviour and his or her job responsibilities and should seek the advice of legal counsel. Only if there is sufficient connection between employees’ outside-the-workplace behaviour and their job responsibilities will termination for cause be warranted.
For more information on dismissing employees with cause for bad behaviour outside the workplace, please contact