September 25, 2014

To what extent are critical comments protected by free speech? Can employers monitor the off-duty activities of employees to ensure they don’t cross the line? How should employers and unions cleanse a workplace poisoned by jokes, pranks and gossip? In this session a panel of Lancaster’s experts will address these and other questions, including:

  • Employees speaking out: How does the law protect employees who engage in whistle blowing against employers? How do adjudicators assess whether employees’ critical comments harm an employer’s reputation or damage the employment relationship, thereby warranting discipline or dismissal? Does the Charter right to free speech play any role in determining an employer’s disciplinary response? When would limitations on employees’ critical speech violate provincial human rights legislation?
  • Union business: What legal protections are there for speech related to union business? Do unionized employees have greater freedom to criticize their employers than non-unionized employees? How do adjudicators determine whether comments are made in the context of union-management relations where they are given greater leeway? What approach should the employer take when “union business” comments constitute bullying or harassment of others in the workplace?
  • Social media and off-duty conduct: What are the limits on offensive comments about the workplace on Facebook, blogs and other internet sites? Are employers obliged to act if an employee is being harassed by other employees online if the alleged harassment doesn’t involve employer technology and takes place during off-duty hours? How do adjudicators assess whether online posts harm an employer’s reputation or damage the employment relationship? When employees are critical of their workplace in online forums, are they breaching duties of confidentiality vis-à-vis their employer, co-workers or others? Should employers block access to certain social media sites from workplace computers or monitor workplace internet activity for signs of harassment?
  • The poisoned work environment: When do threats go beyond joking or “empty talk” and constitute a risk to another employee’s physical or psychological safety? When does behaviour cross the line from good-humoured ribbing to harassment or assault? When does gossiping constitute harassment? What is the difference between a workplace in which harassment occurs and a “poisoned work environment”? What steps should employers and unions take to remedy workplaces which have been poisoned by a culture of gossiping, bullying, jokes or horseplay?