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Labour law evolving to encompass social media

Social media is a constant presence in the 21st century, both in the lives of private citizens and public corporations. People use it to connect with one another, and businesses use it to connect with consumers. The key to social media versus traditional media is the two-way dialogue it allows between companies and their customers. This can be both a positive and a negative situation, and a recent labour law case may change the way companies and their employees interact with social media platforms.

In a July 5, 2016 ruling, an Ontario arbitrator decided the Toronto Transit Commission failed to adequately protect its workers from harassment on Twitter. Like many companies in Canada, the TTC uses the app to field complaints from its customers. The union representing the transit workers submitted 38 exhibits into evidence including racist, threatening and offensive tweets singling out particular employees, along with photos of transit staff that had allegedly upset the users in some manner.

The union had asked for the complete shutdown of the Twitter account @TTCHelps, but the arbitrator denied the request. Instead, he directed the TTC to issue warnings to any person posting offensive material to remove the post or risk being blocked from the account. The ruling is being deemed historic, as it represents the first case in which a company has been held responsible for harassment faced by its employees on social media. 

Major companies across Canada, including giants such as Rogers, Air Canada and BC Ferries, use social media of all types to establish relationships and create connections with their client base. As laws in Canada adapt to meet the needs of companies and workers who function in this new digital landscape, it may become increasingly confusing to know what one's rights and responsibilities are. A law firm that functions in the labour and employment landscape will be able to steer employees and their employers in the right direction when modern labour law challenges arise.

Source: CBC News, "Employers now responsible for protecting their workers on social media", Avneet Dhillon, July 30, 2016

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