A recent labor arbitration decision illustrates that an employer can terminate an employee who uses social media to insult and threaten co-workers in violation of a workplace harassment policy.
This case arose when the employee, who was a firefighter, was notified by his wife that she was in a car stopped by a police officer for an illegal turn. The officer administered field sobriety tests to the wife and the driver of the car, both of whom failed. When the employee arrived at the scene, he unsuccessfully tried to persuade the officer to let him take his wife home. Instead, both the driver and his wife (for public intoxication) were arrested.
The employee then went down to the booking station where he, again unsuccessfully, attempted to convince the arresting officer’s supervisor to release his wife. During this exchange, he called the arresting officer profane names, threatened the officer, and warned that he would “smear this s*** all over the place”—which he promptly started to do the next day. Over the next three weeks, the employee made many Facebook posts disparaging the officer, his supervisor, and the police department, including:
I will not miss a single day of trying to bust you to a cart pusher where you belong. I’m not one to turn the other cheek you prick. I’m coming to make you miserable you incompetent son of a b***.
I don’t know where you live and don’t have your number Rhoads. But I will. You take from me and I’ll take from you. I’ll have my say.
So go f*** yourselves you incompetent Barney fife sob.
I got there to get her before she was arrested. And he took her anyway. Maybe I go take his f*** wife and see how that mother f*** likes it.
Where’s Jason Potter? You got nothing to add? For [sic] going to [sic] boss. If anything I can do your [sic] going too. You took up for your corrupt desk jockey. You [sic] either with me or against me. I know where you stand now. Your [sic] one of them.
And ada pd do not park across the street from my house for your speed trap. I don’t want to be associated with your corruption. Stay away or I’ll push you down the street.
Following an investigation into his conduct, including the threatening and harassing Facebook posts, the City terminated the employee’s employment for harassment.
The employee grieved the termination, but the arbitrator denied his claims. The arbitrator determined that the Facebook posts violated the City’s workplace harassment policy and were offensive, intimidating, hostile, abusive, and threatening. The arbitrator concluded that, given the egregiousness of the posts, they justified termination of his employment.
This case illustrates again that, generally, employers are justified in disciplining employees who engage in conduct on their social media accounts that violates the employer’s harassment policies. In many circumstances, employers may even be obligated to investigate and take corrective action when they become aware of such harassing conduct. Of course, each situation should be analyzed based on its specific facts, so employers should seek legal counsel as appropriate.