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Do employment codes of conduct cover off-duty behaviour?

Recently at a Toronto FC soccer game, a group of men heckled a female journalist in a vulgar manner. She confronted the men, and one of them, a Hydro One engineer, was subsequently fired over the incident, which was recorded and went viral through social media.

In a CBC News interview, Carman Overholt, of Overholt Law LLP, was asked to give an employment lawyer’s perspective on the dismissal and how companies’ codes of conduct and their scope have been affected by social media.

Workplace codes of conduct have traditionally been limited to behaviour on the job, said Overholt, but “there are certain kinds of extremely offensive and shocking off-duty conduct that may make the continuation of the employment relationship impossible.”

Specifically, if the employee’s off-duty behaviour reflects badly on the employer’s reputation, then the employer may be justified in firing the employee.

“The line between on-duty and off-duty is not as clear as it once was due to social media,” said Overholt. “Behaviour outside of work may very well justify a form of discipline, including dismissal.”

There is also precedence for dismissal of employees who engage in illegal activity that isn’t necessarily work-related. In fact, according to Toronto police, the kind of vulgar disruption that led to the termination of the Hydro One employee could result in multiple charges, including mischief, sexual harassment and breach of the peace.

Hydro One has also stated that it takes a zero tolerance stance against discrimination and harassment.

The employment and labour lawyers of Overholt Law LLP provide comprehensive representation to Canadian employers and employees. If you have questions about any of these matters, then please see our employment law overview.

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